New back to work scheme isn’t a good deal for employers

I have heard some codswallop in my time but the government’s latest claim that businesses will be better off by having less people off sick than they would be from receiving the compensation for statutory sick pay has to be a biscuit taker. 

The new Health and Work scheme is to offer those who have been sick for more than 4 weeks an assessment which will include a mix of advice to get them back to work, from treatment plans to job re-organization through re-training or working from home. 

This, in government nonsense-speak, will apparently identify the issues preventing return from work. Silly of me – I thought it was because people are ill.

Even sillier, I have been under the illusion that these people had seen their highly qualified doctors who had identified this illnesses, recommended that they be off work and were monitoring their progress as to the continuation of this situation. Employers and GPs will now be able to refer workers for specific work-focused occupational health assessments. 

The bill for this ludicrousness, tendered and run by private sector contractors, will be paid for by scrapping the compensation firms receive when suffering from the absence of their staff.

I can see how the government coffers benefit from the cut in people off sick – I cannot for one moment seriously believe that the average SME will.

The scheme is non compulsory which enables it to neatly dodge any change of law. Workers can refuse to be assessed or once assessed can still refuse to follow the advice given.

No doubt SMEs cannot refuse to have their sickness compensation taken away. If nothing is enforced onto the worker as a result, I fail to see how the minister for the disabled, Mike Penning’s, claim on behalf of the government that they “are investing to help businesses” bears the slightest relation to the truth.

The offer is that employers would have access to an occupational health scheme. Very few employers in this age do not have this already but most prefer to choose the provider.

I know from experience just how appalling these providers can be – covering their own backs, lining their own pockets and at the same time providing nothing of use to for employer or employee alike.

I was surprised to see the rare harmony of Tory MP and trade unions in support of this move. The unions point out the subtle difference that they are pro-getting people back to work that is suitable for them, and ensuring employers provide that – rather than any emphasis on people being forced back to work. As usual, the unions want businesses to be dictated to and their members to have no controls at all.

Small wonder the divide is growing in this country. The government appears to have no idea of the unrest that their years of austerity has caused, from savagery over the cuts to the disabled to the fury of the current suffering in the Somerset Levels by saving money to lose homes.

With this idea, they not only anger businesses by the red tape and interference they supposedly stand against, but will rightly again outrage the man in the street. I have heard of the horrendous assessments given the genuinely disabled when they are treated with less sensitivity than the average penned up animal, by some spotty youth with the sensitivity to the individual of one of Hitler’s best.

Now people are to feel pressure to rise from their sick beds to negotiate some other scheme. Most people suffering from genuine serious illness are suffering from stress and worry. God bless our caring government ministers from helping this further.

And for businesses – no doubt this is another bright idea that will ensure more look at 0 hour contracts and lose good staff, or have more money to find in what are still extremely challenging times.

Is this really an area the government should be addressing, in a country with one of the lowest sickness rates in Europe, one which we have already halved in the last decade?How about the tax dodgers both corporate and individual instead?

Jan Cavelle is founder of the Jan Cavelle Furniture Company

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