Purnell defends government snub for employee health and wellbeing reforms

Work and pensions secretary James Purnell has defended the government’s watered-down response to the Dame Carol Black review of employee health.

Black found earlier this year that up to four in 10 employers had no sickness absence management policy, despite than 170 million working days being lost in 2007 due to sickness absence, according to the CBI.

But the government’s official response failed to include measures to force employers to report on their progress on reducing sickness absence, or to break down tax barriers to investment in occupational health services.

Purnell told Personnel Today: “We are not planning to ask companies to report on occupational health in their annual reports at this stage.

“It is part of their bottom line, and we are looking at how we can help employers understand the costs to them of sick pay, occupational health, hiring and training new staff.”

He added that calls for tax incentives were shunned as the government was not convinced that the cost would be justified by the reward.

Black’s report – Working For a Healthier Tomorrow – called for the government to develop a model of measuring the benefits to employers of investment in health and wellbeing.

“Employers should use this to report on health and well-being in the board room and company accounts,” said Black.

The report added: “Taxation can be a disincentive for smaller organisations to invest in health and wellbeing programmes. Employers also incur a tax liability if they pay for the rehabilitation of an injury incurred outside of work.”

But the government’s official response yesterday relied on schemes such as a business health check tool, which would enable employers to calculate the cost of staff sickness, and an occupational health helpline for small firms.

The government also announced it would conduct a review of the health and wellbeing of NHS staff.

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