Watchdog criticises attempts to curb sick leave at DWP

The public spending watchdog has criticised the Government’s attempts to crack down on the high number of sick days at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

The DWP has devised a plan to solve the problem through a mixture of closer monitoring and more help.

But “many basic procedures in the policy”, such as the issuing of warnings to staff, “are implemented inconsistently or not at all at the local level”, warns a report from the National Audit Office.

The average DWP worker was off work sick for 12.6 days in 2003-4, one of the highest levels in the civil service. Civil service absence is high compared with most parts of the private sector.

Within the DWP, 362 people were off sick for the whole year. Junior grades were more likely to take time off than senior grades.

The department has responded to the problem with a trigger point – eight days of absence – at which management action should be considered.

It has also resorted to return-to-work interviews, a special taskforce to deal with cases of long-term absence, and better access to occupational health.

The Cabinet Office, Health and Safety Executive and DWP are to publish a report today on how to cut absence in the public sector.

The PCS union insisted that staff in the department faced stressful working conditions, such as job insecurity and IT failures.

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