How much is health worth? To us as individuals, it’s priceless. But health also has a huge, often unconsidered, impact on the economy. With an Autumn Statement around the corner, and the business world keen to support staff as during National Self Care week, it’s the perfect time to ask important questions about the relationship between health and the workplace.
Recent evidence tells us that around 600,000 people who want a job are long-term sick, with many of the nation’s workforce waiting in line to be seen by the NHS. It’s a trend further mirrored in official labour market statistics, where economic inactivity due to long-term sickness remains consistent month on month.
With 38 per cent of businesses reporting that they have turned down opportunities to grow due to labour shortages, we’re left with a sum that doesn’t quite add up. With so many people unable to work due to ill health at a time when firms are crying out for talent, there’s an indisputable case for business and government to work together to improve the health of the workforce. By focusing on preventative measures, we can also address many of these problems before they become as acute as we’re seeing now.
The UK’s workforce now spans over five generations, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that our one-size-fits-all approach to health and wellbeing is starting to fall short. As people live and work for longer, new challenges are emerging all the time – particularly around caring responsibilities.
Whether in the context of children, older people, or those living with physical and mental disability, balancing work with caring responsibilities has become a real consideration for many families across the country – particularly with such severe pressures on household incomes. That’s why we need to remove obvious barriers that limit the extension of support beyond the individual employee to their dependants.
The forthcoming Autumn Statement provides an excellent opportunity to look at how we use the tax system to address this generational challenge. The UK could deliver an ambitious expansion of tax-free occupational health benefits to activate businesses’ role in preventing poor ill-health for employees and wider society. Starting this November, the CBI would like to see all Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) made tax free including for household family members, alongside any useful digital self-help tools. This would have the immediate benefit of removing the complex administration and costly challenge of tax applications on these programmes for employers and extend vital mental health support to many more workers.
Beyond this, the CBI’s response to the government’s consultation on Tax Incentives for Occupational Health recommends the removal of the tax-free limit for health screeningand medical check-ups and calls for the “28-day unfit for work” condition and £500 tax-free cap for treatment recommended by an occupational health professional to be scrapped.
Firms want to support their employees, knowing that happy, healthy workers are far more likely to stay on and progress within their ranks. It’s also a major boost to productivity and workplace culture.
While nobody is suggesting that better workplace health provision is cure-all for the economy, it would certainly help soothe some of our most immediate challenges. Removing the barriers that are holding firms back from expanding that provision would be a good start, and one that would help both employers and employees. A three in one remedy that addresses sickness absence, supports labour market stability and drives sustainable growth.