Tax breaks should be given to firms which give their staff counselling, physiotherapy and flu jabs, report says

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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  • Some 2.8m people are economically inactive due to long-term sickness

Firms who provide staff with access to counselling, physiotherapy and flu jabs at work should be given tax breaks, a report says.

The relief would reward companies who help to keep Britons healthy and in employment, rather than on benefits or signed-off sick.

Other recommendations include offering NHS Health Checks in offices and factories to boost uptake and lowering the qualifying age from 40 to 25 in areas of the country where unemployment rates are highest.

It comes as 2.8 million people are currently economically inactive due to long-term sickness – the highest level since the early 1990s.

Most cite mental ill health or musculoskeletal conditions such as back or neck pain, with the toll impeding economic growth.

Most of the economically inactive cite mental ill health or musculoskeletal conditions such as back or neck pain, with the toll impeding economic growth (Stock Image)

The Policy Exchange think tank, which produced the ‘None of Our Business?’ report, wants workplaces to play a greater role in supporting the nation’s health.

It says this could reduce the number of people on long-term sick leave, save the NHS money and slash a growing benefits bill.

The report has received cross-party backing, including from Chloe Smith and David Blunkett, both former Work and Pensions Secretaries.

Ministers have admitted tackling the growing issue of ill-health among the working age population is a ‘top priority’.

Policy Exchange wants to increase access to occupational health services, which are currently only available to 45 per of workers in Britain.

Large employers are three times more likely than small and medium firms to make them available.

GPs issued 11million sick notes – formally known as ‘fit notes’ – last year, of which 94 per cent were marked ‘not fit for work’.

But the report authors say GPs could reduce this number if they were allowed to refer patient to occupational health professionals for ‘additional assessment’.

They could then suggest adaptations to the workplace and help rehabilitate staff.

Firms who use empty high street premises to deliver physiotherapy or vaccination clinics could be given discounts on their business rates, as could those who band together with other local businesses to provide ‘group services’, the experts add.

Furthermore, they want more doctors and nurses trained in occupational health and call on the leisure sector to play a greater role in supporting people with back and neck pain.

Sickness absence and ill-health among working age people is estimated to cost the country £150billion per year, which is almost as large as the annual budget of NHS England.

Last year, 186 million working days were lost due to sickness or injury. 

Employees took off an average of 7.8 days sick, which is the highest level in a decade and two days more than in 2019.

Of the 11million ‘fit notes’ issued last year, just 6.9 per cent of them indicated an individual ‘may be fit for work’ and offered workplace advice.

Sean Phillips, head of health and social care at Policy Exchange, and the report’s lead author, said: ‘If we want to break the cycle of poor health and rising state spending, we need to think differently about the role that employers can play in preventing ill-health and more effectively supporting employees to remain in or to return to work.

‘Expanding occupational health services – both within and beyond the NHS – is key to this, but we won’t convince employers to ‘do the right thing’ by simply demanding they do more.

‘Incentives are required along with clear, targeted information so employers can choose high-quality and cost-effective services to support their workforce.

‘Working-age disability benefit spending is expected to rise from £19 billion to £29 billion over the next parliament, while the bill for working-age incapacity will jump from £26 billion to £34 billion.

One-third of people are signed off work for four weeks or longer, by which time 20 per cent will never return to work.

Once people are signed off for six months, 80 per cent of them will never return to work.

Meanwhile, it is estimated that businesses spend almost a thousand pounds per year per employee on sickness absence.

Last week the Government announced an Occupational Health Taskforce, chaired by Dame Carol Black to improve employer awareness of the benefits of occupational health.

Firms who use empty high street premises to deliver physiotherapy or vaccination clinics could be given discounts on their business rates (Stock Image)

Firms who use empty high street premises to deliver physiotherapy or vaccination clinics could be given discounts on their business rates (Stock Image)

In a foreword to the report, Lord Blunkett, former Labour Work and Pensions Secretary, said: ‘Ill-health among those of working-age is holding Britain back.

‘It is the great brake upon economic growth, adding to pressures upon the NHS, adding to demand for welfare benefits and impeding productivity … there are many people who could benefit enormously from physiotherapy, a chiropractor or mental health support who would then clearly be able to work again.

‘Conservative MP Chloe Smith said: ‘Policy Exchange’s latest report could hardly be timelier. Long-term sickness is the single biggest driver of economic inactivity today.

‘Whilst the Government have made great strides in tackling this issue, a renewed focus on enhancing the link between health services and employers is needed to boost opportunity, productivity and growth in the months ahead.’

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