Employee health debate leads to bout of ‘hopeless confusion’

There is “hopeless confusion” in the debate over who should take responsibility for the health of employees, it was claimed last week.

At the ‘Whose Health is it Anyway’? debate in London, hosted by Bupa, speakers made the case for employers, individuals or the government, but there was little consensus.

Lord David Lipsey, chairman of the Social Market Foundation think-tank, said it was about striking the right balance between the government’s support and the contribution that employers and individuals have to make. He said no-one seemed to have all the answers.

“The state will provide the basic minimum of healthcare, but you’ll have to find the rest yourself,” he said. “There is argument as to how much state involvement there should be. There is hopeless confusion at the heart of the debate.”

Dr Bill Gunnyeon, medical director at the Department for Work and Pensions, said employers had a key role in improving staff health.

“Work provides an opportunity to promote and improve health,” he said. “Organisations can create a positive culture and a healthy, supportive environment.”

He said the government had an important role to play.

“The government needs to ensure it has a co-ordinated approach to all policies relating to work and health,” he said. “It must give priority to the health of working-age people.”

Claire Fox, director of the Institute of Ideas think-tank, accused the government of scaremongering with excessive health warnings and placed responsibility solely at the door of the individual.

“All this talk about health is actually making us ill,” she said. “We are free agents and should be trusted to conduct our lives however we want to.”

Delegates were similarly divided. When questioned, almost 60% said that the individuals should bear most responsibility and 39% said the government should manage health at work.

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