MPs have highlighted the role that financial support schemes, such as group income protection (GIP), can play in alleviating stress for staff who have taken time off because of mental ill health.
A debate in parliament’s Westminster Hall on Wednesday focused on the ways in which employers can reduce absence from work due to poor mental health. This included the provision of group income protection, which can provide a safety net for staff who need to take time off to manage their condition.
Such policies may provide a replacement income for any extended period off work, reducing any stress that might extend their time away from the workplace, and can help employers make any reasonable adjustments staff need.
Craig Tracey, MP for North Warwickshire, said employers should be prepared to support staff through periods of ill health, as well as taking preventative measures and offering early rehabilitation.
“Insurance products such as income protection can – and do – help with that, producing results that benefit employees as well as employers,” he said.
However, Tracey noted that there is a need to increase awareness among employers and staff about the benefits, and availability of, insurance.
“To aid that, there needs to be a conversation with government about how we can incentivise employers to take up covers such as income protection for their workforce,” he said. “The new Single Financial Guidance Body should be at the forefront of that as it has the potential to place a significant focus on improving greater financial resilience as well as improving awareness of protection.”
But many smaller employers face barriers when looking to introduce GIP, according to Nigel Adams, MP for Selby and Ainsty.
He said: “GIP is clearly a product that works well for those employees who choose to buy it, and we encourage the industry to continue to promote its benefits.
“However, we believe that small and medium-sized enterprises, in particular, lack sufficient incentives to invest in GIP as it is currently structured, because they often choose not to offer sick pay for periods beyond statutory requirements. That is why we have been looking more broadly at incentives and obligations on employers.”
Group Risk Development (GRID) – an industry body for the group risk sector – said it would be working with the government to help increase uptake of such policies.
“Income protection insurance through the workplace has been justly recognised as a positive way for employers to provide a financial safety net and to enable them to help support people back to work,” said Katharine Moxham, spokesperson for GRID.
“Through our involvement in the DWP’s Access to Insurance Working Group, we will work towards addressing the challenge to encourage more SMEs to use group income protection to support their employees better through periods of mental and other ill health.”
Jim Shannon, MP for Strangford, highlighted research by the Centre for Mental Health which shows employers can save at least 30% of the cost of lost production and staff turnover by improving how they manage their employees’ mental health.
He said taking small steps to improve mental health before staff have to take time off to manage their condition, is the most cost-effective option for organisations.
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“I believe that enforced lunch breaks away from desks are an essential component, for example. It is all too easy for people to stay at their desks,” he said.