The government is being urged to review its work and health priorities following new research showing its Fit for Work scheme isn’t being embraced – particularly by SMEs.
The call has been issued by EEF and comes ahead of the evaluation findings of the Fit for Work Service being carried out for government by the Institute of Employment Studies.
Keeping the nation’s working age population fit and healthy is a vital element of improving the UK’s productivity performance and overall economic growth. As such, the Fit for Work service clearly has a role to play, however, companies remain unconvinced of the benefits.
This could be because they already have some form of occupational health provision or, they are content to rely on the NHS, proposes EEF.
According to the survey, while more than three quarters of companies (77%) are aware of the Fit for Work service, only a quarter of those aware would use it; while an equal number said they would not use it at all.
Furthermore, of the 14 companies in the survey that had used the service, only three agreed it had enabled their employees to return to work early. In contrast, more than a third of companies (36%) still rely entirely on the NHS to provide medical treatment for their employees.
EEF believes that a healthy and productive workforce is an important component of an industrial strategy. The Fit for Work service can contribute to this by tackling the most common causes of long-term absence and could also provide the framework for helping more people with disabilities and long-term health conditions into the workplace.
This would help improve the productive potential of the economy and reduce the burden on an overstretched NHS. Yet, there is currently a lack of engagement by government with both employers and GPs.
There is also a view that the current £500 tax exemption to pay for interventions recommended by the service is not a ‘real’ benefit. These are just two of the factors preventing a wider uptake of the service.
- The Fit for Work service must do more to engage with manufacturers and make it clear how engagement with the service will result in employees returning to work earlier.
- There needs to be a serious consideration about whether an expanded Fit for Work service has a place in helping companies employ more individuals with disabilities and/or long-term health conditions.
- The government’s strategy towards older workers should form part of the overall work and health agenda, and the government should consider how incentivising employers to introduce health and well-being programmes will be of particular benefit to older workers who might otherwise leave the world of work.
- Financial or other incentives need to considered to encourage employers to try new and creative ways of supporting more people with disabilities and health conditions in work. The government should assess the viability and practicality of a variety of financial incentives to see which offers the greatest benefit to the UK economy at a macro-economic level.
The survey also shows that companies are upping their efforts to enhance the work and wellbeing of employees over 50 so they can continue to retain their services and address long-term health issues.
Almost half of employers (46%) offer flexible working, while almost a third (32%) have invested in workplace modifications and over a quarter (28%) have health promotion arrangements in place. Given skills shortages, and the potential for more limited access to EU workers post-Brexit these efforts are likely to increase.
EEF also continues to believe that fiscal incentives have a key role to play in encouraging companies to pay for employee health and wellbeing programmes. Almost four fifths of companies would pay for workplace adjustments, rehabilitation or private medical treatments if financial incentives were introduced, while just over a quarter (28%) of companies said that financial incentives would help them recruit or retain people with disabilities and health conditions.
The most popular incentive, noted by almost half of companies was employer/government matched funding.