Improving Lives: A Work and Health Plan to Help Disabled People into Employment

Published on: 02/12/2016

#Sickness Absence & Wellbeing

Whilst the rate of employment for the non-disabled population is currently 80%, only 48% of disabled people are in employment. This inequality has led the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the Department of Health to jointly publish a Green Paper, “Improving Lives” to look at “one of the most significant inequalities in the UK today”.

The Paper sets out the Government’s proposed plans to help disabled people and those with long term health conditions (“The Individuals”) improve their health and, where possible, move into and remain in sustainable employment. The Green Paper marks the beginning of the consultation process, and the Government will be seeking views on the proposals until 17th February 2017.

It is “widely recognised” that appropriate work brings with it a range of health benefits. Despite this, the UK health and welfare systems are, according to the Green Paper, “struggling to provide meaningful support”. The Government believes this leads to a “downward spiral of declining health and being out of work” which creates pressures on the NHS and denies those individuals the benefits of employment.

Objectives of the Green Paper

The Paper sets out the following main objectives of the consultation:

  • To ensure equal access to labour market opportunities for The Individuals;
  • To help employers to take a long-term view on the skills and capability of their workforce and keep people in work;
  • To ensure that people are able to access the right employment and health services at the right time;
  • To effectively integrate the health and welfare systems to help The Individuals move into and remain in sustainable employment;
  • To put mental health and physical health on an equal footing;
  • To invest in innovation in order to find out what works, for whom, why and at what cost so that promising approaches can be scaled up quickly; and
  • To change the cultures and mind-sets of society to focus on the strengths of disabled people and what they can do.

For Employers

The Governments ultimate aim is for employers to have a greater understanding of the important relationship between health, work and disability.

Practically for employers this means:

  • Acting Inclusively when Recruiting
    The consultation asks for feedback on how existing Government support can be reformed to better support the recruitment and retention of The Individuals. The Paper also asks for suggestions about how to incentivise employers to create new roles for The Individuals, as well as incentivise the retention of those individuals
  • Embedding Good Practices and Supportive Cultures (for example addressing stigma and encouraging disclosure)
    The Government has asked for employers’ views on how best to facilitate this change in culture, particularly how the guidance offered could be improved. More specifically, the Green Paper asks for opinions on:
    • how best to disseminate this guidance to employers and how to reach different sectors;
    • whether to consolidate the business case and guidance into a one-stop shop on health and work; and
    • what is the most effective way to present the guidance.
  • Realising the Potential of Employees with disabilities or long-term health conditions.
    The Government is keen to ensure that disability does not prevent The Individuals from reaching senior, executive and board positions. To help this the Paper pledges to establish a Disability Confident Business Leaders Group to work alongside Ministers and increase employer engagement around disabled employment, starting with the FTSE 250 companies.

    Views and suggestions for how best to establish further support networks between employers, employees and charities connected to health and work are also requested.
  • Facilitating Remaining in Work and Returning to Work for individuals with disability or long-term health conditions.
    This is probably the most interesting part of the consultation. The Paper aims to encourage employers to promote health and wellbeing while simultaneously preventing ill health. As part of that aim, the Paper suggests reforming the Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) regime in order to encourage supportive conversations and phased returns to work. The Paper suggests a regime where employers could top up wages to equal SSP levels. This would ensure that lower paid employees are not worse off for returning to work.

    In addition, evidence shows that the longer a person is off sick, the less likely they are to return to work. As such, the Paper urges employers to maintain contact with employees during absences from work in order to facilitate an early return to work. The Paper requests views from employers regarding what contact requirements would be reasonable.

    Finally, the Paper also acknowledged that the current Statement of Fitness for Work (“fit note”) was not fully achieving its aim of encouraging discussions about employees’ return to work. Consequently, the Paper states that the operation of the “fit note” will be reviewed.

The statistics outlined in the Green Paper illustrate that disability and long term health issues is an area which the Government are keen to reform.

These proposals may mean that employers eventually need to review and, where necessary, amend their recruitment policies to bring them in line with the government objectives. Policies regarding contact with staff who are absent or on sick leave may also need to be changed in order to make sure that they comply with the proposals. Government guidance on this point has the potential to be extremely useful, as the extent and form of contact with employees who are on long term sick can often be a minefield for employers who want to remain in contact, but do not want to cause the employee stress.

Also interesting is the potential review of the “fit note”. Many employers have found that fit-notes currently given are of very little practical use and often just serve as an administrative exercise. Therefore, review of this area, may result in a useful tool for employers when dealing with employees with health conditions. This is clearly a key issue for the Government as just this week the Department for Work and Pensions has issued a “Fit for Work: a quick guide for GPs” which aims to improve referrals to the Fit for Work service.

Whilst the proposals in the Green Paper are interesting, particularly around SSP and “Fit notes”, this is just an initial consultation. The consultation closes on 17 February 2017 and then, following a review of the responses, the Government will publish a response outlining any changes it intends to implement.

As we have seen with a variety of other consultations, there is no guarantee that the Government will come out with any changes. In the wake of Brexit, many areas of reform have been pushed back or abandoned completely. However, disability in the work place is a priority for the Government, mainly as ill health among working age people costs the economy £100 billion. Therefore, this area will definitely be one to watch in 2017.







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