The Government's new focus on productivity was a long time coming but it's good to see George Osborne taking the problem seriously. One thing that's sometimes blamed for holding back the economy is the amount of sick days we take. Employers lost 131 million working days to illness in 2013, and while some days off due to illness are of course inevitable, businesses and the Government have been criticised for not doing enough to support the long-term sick back into work.
There's a lot of controversy around the Government's policies for the disabled and long-term sick, after several people who were supposedly found to be healthy enough to work have passed away not long after. But a scheme launched today should hopefully prove more popular.
As is the way with the current Government, Fit for Work has been announced a couple of times before, but from tomorrow it will be possible for any GP to refer their patients to the service. Those eligible will receive occupational health advice to encourage them to get back into work as soon as they can.But work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith also wants businesses to take more responsibility for their sick workers.
'We’re saying to business that it’s right to invest in your employees, pay them more through the living wage, take a greater responsibility when they’re sick, and in return they will see more productive and committed workers,' he told the FT. For that reason employers will also be able to refer their staff to the service, starting from this Autumn.
Of course whether businesses engage with the scheme enough for it to make a difference will depend on what's in it for them. Satisfying Duncan Smith's demands might not be much of an incentive, but if the scheme is well funded enough (which it may not be given current budget cuts) it could be a decent way for employers to cut the cost of investing in their long-term sick - and help boost productivity as a result.