Work, health and disability: how can we bridge the gap?

The CIPD has just submitted its response to the Government’s Green Paper and consultation Work, health and disability: improving lives. The Green Paper has far reaching proposals for how employers support people’s health as well as how it aims to halve the disability employment gap by 2020. Its scope is wide-ranging, quite rightly examining how effectively the health and welfare systems support people’s health.

From a workplace perspective, it explores the critical role of promoting health, and preventative and rehabilitative support. As well as reviewing existing initiatives such as fit note certification and the fit for work service, the Green Paper examines new proposals such as changing statutory sick pay arrangements to encourage a phased return to work where appropriate, the role of insurance schemes in supporting prevention activities and protecting incomes, and mandating supportive conversations between an employer and individual who is off sick.

The CIPD response focuses on the role of employers and how organisations can provide more effective support for people with disabilities and health conditions to access and remain in work. In preparing its response, the CIPD convened two roundtables of its membership and other key stakeholders who provided invaluable insights and experiences to help inform our submission to Government.

Closing the gap

We need a considerable step change in employment practice relating to the management of people with a disability and/or health condition if the laudable but aspirational aims set out in the Green Paper are to be realised. Just 8% of employers have recruited a person with a disability or long-term health condition over a year, a stark indication of the extent of the barriers that continue to hinder employers recruiting and retaining the talent of disabled people and people with health conditions.

Despite the enhanced awareness of workplace health issues and the widely acknowledged business case for taking action, CIPD research also shows there remains a stubborn implementation gap for health and well-being initiatives, and disability confident practice, at work.

Key recommendations

We have made a number of recommendations in our response, including calling on Government to:

  • Launch a major, ongoing and well-resourced publicity and education campaign to raise awareness and encourage a culture of inclusion among employers that is broader than, but aligned with the Disability Confident campaign.
  • Establish a ‘one-stop shop’ for employers to make it easier to navigate the many sources of information, advice and guidance already available.
  • Re-design Statutory Sick Pay so that it can support employees make a more effective and sustainable phased return to work.
  • Allow other allied healthcare professionals to sign fit notes and undertake an in-depth review of how the fit note operates.
  • Improve the Fit for Work Service to increase take-up, for example by shortening the referral period for employers, changing the current limit on the number of referrals, and including resources for more preventative and targeted occupational health advice.

The CIPD’s mission is to improve work and working lives; therefore, optimising the health and well-being of individuals while at the same time enhancing corporate performance sits at the very heart of our purpose. The issues set out in the consultation are complex, and there is no easy answer, but we welcome the Government’s attention in this area. It’s imperative that we build momentum on this agenda; therefore, we look forward to seeing what emerges from this consultation and collaborating further on this vital agenda.

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