Government plans public-sector sickness absence review

Osborne argues public-sector terms are more generous than in the private sector. PIC: Tolga Akmen/LNP/REX Shutterstock

The Government is to carry out a review of public-sector sickness absence, Chancellor George Osborne said in his Autumn Statement and Comprehensive Spending Review in November, at the same time as he unveiled a series of other workplace health initiatives.

The review was not announced by the Chancellor in his main speech to Parliament, but was revealed in the Treasury’s supporting Blue Book, which was published after the speech.

In it, the Treasury stated that the Government would “review sickness absence in public-sector workforces before consulting on how to reduce its impact on public service delivery, and considering legislation where necessary”.

It argued that public-sector sick pay was estimated to cost around £4.5 billion a year “and terms are more generous than typical private-sector arrangements”.

The book added: “It is right that the Government reviews how the current systems for managing and compensating for sickness are working and looks at what reforms might be needed to move to a more modern and productive state.”

No further detail, or any sense of timing or scope of the review, was articulated at this point, however.

The announcement was one of a number relating to workplace health. The Chancellor, for example, pledged more funding to help people with disabilities and health conditions to get into and remain in work.

This included extra money for the Access to Work scheme and £115 million for the Joint Work and Health Unit, including some £40 million “for a health and work innovation fund, to pilot new ways to join up across the health and employment systems.” An extra £600 million will be invested in mental health services.

The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health welcomed these changes, with head of policy and public affairs Richard Jones saying: “Better access to timely support, advice and treatments is good for individuals, for employers and for the economy.”

The Chancellor also announced that he would be ending the right to cash compensation for whiplash injuries, with details due to be consulted upon in the new year.

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