Government told to help on ill-health staff losses

Public-sector personnel chiefs have hit back at a central government crackdown on sickness retirement, saying Whitehall is to blame if staff retired early.

A report from the Treasury last week said the 22,000 public-sector early retirements a year is “unacceptably high” – despite noting it had fallen from 40,000 in the mid 1990s – and said it is costing £1bn a year.

But Terry Gorman, president of local government personnel directors’ body Socpo, said it would be better if the Government helped stop employees falling ill in the first place.

“The Government has increased the responsibilities of local government at the same time as tightening the spending restrictions. In these circumstances it is difficult to keep motivated, if, when you fall ill through, say, stress or workplace injury, you are branded a skiver by the Government.”

Gorman said local government – where ill-health accounts for 39 per cent of retirements, according to the Treasury – has accepted independent assessment of individuals claiming ill-health retirement and is ensuring alternative work is available where possible.

A spokesman for the National Union of Teachers said the retirements are financially driven. She said, “It is a pity the Treasury does not have to deal with the problems confronting teachers and the stress they are under.”

Karen Bell, president of the Association of Health Service HRManagers, said the report “failed to accept the reality that work is incredibly hard in the public sector, especially for the unskilled”. But she said absence can be managed with HR strategy.

Chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, Fred Broughton, said officers must not be penalised for doing a high-risk job. He said imposing penalties on police forces for not reducing ill-health retirements would cut into limited operational budgets.

A spokesman for the Fire Brigades Union said 60 per cent of ill-health retirements in the fire service are because of injury sustained while working. “Most firefighters who retire early would much rather continue working.”

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