12 July 2007
New task force targets employee absence
A new vocational rehabilitation task group has been set up to help ill or injured people stay in or return to work.
Announcing the move, DWP Minister Lord McKenzie also called on employers to do more to support their employees.
A total of 175 million working days are lost to sickness absence each year, costing businesses and the economy around £13 billion. Being out of work also affects physical and mental health, and returning to work is often crucial to an individual's full recovery. But very few employers currently offer occupational health or vocational rehabilitation to their employees.
The task group - made up of government, customers, business and insurers - will identify what services are currently available, why businesses do not provide more support, and what needs to be done to increase understanding and ensure wider provision of support services.
Speaking at an event in London, McKenzie said: "One million people take sick leave every week - 3000 of these will not return within six months and, of these, 2,500 will still be on incapacity benefit five years later, having lost much of their dignity, independence and involvement with society.”
However, rehabilitation is not about forcing people back to work, he stressed. “Work, in fact, is often a crucial step in helping people return to full health. And businesses have much to gain, in terms of reduced sickness absence, and improved staff engagement and retention.
"But very few employers offer occupational health or vocational rehabilitation. This task force will identify why this is the case, what barriers are preventing wider provision and what needs to be done to change this.
"We cannot do this alone - employers must recognise that rehabilitation is not purely medical, but also a management activity, and they must do more to help their employees return to work."
The task group is part of the Government's Health Work and Well-being strategy.
Department For Works And Pensions
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