Today the Government will publish a Command Paper giving their response to the independent review of sickness absence in Great Britain carried out by Dame Carol Black and David Frost. We are setting out a new strategy which will help people to stay in work, support employers to manage attendance more effectively, and reduce the number of people falling needlessly on to sickness benefits.
The review identified structural failings in the current system, which typically offers little support to either employees or employers in the early stages of sickness absence and brings significant state resources to bear only once the individual has become detached from the labour market and significant damage has been done to their future employability.
Our response sets out new measures to support employers, employees and healthcare professionals to minimise avoidable absences and keep more people attached to the labour market. We expect this to yield significant benefits for individuals, employers and the state.
At the centre of our approach is a new state-funded service which will carry out an independent assessment of employees after four weeks of sickness absence and provide advice to the employee, employer and GP. This service will be funded by the abolition of the percentage threshold scheme, which currently reimburses some elements of statutory sick pay but does nothing to encourage employers to reduce it. We agree with the reviewers that existing resources would be better used to support employers to manage sickness absence more effectively.
We will also support employers by retaining existing tax relief on employee assistance programmes and abolishing statutory record-keeping requirements for statutory sick pay. We will consider the introduction of a tax relief on interventions recommended by the new service, and make a decision at the 2013 Budget.
The response sets out how we will use the opportunity provided by wider reform of the welfare system to address the problems the reviewers identified with the way the current benefit system treats people with health or sickness issues. Under universal credit we will ensure that people receive appropriate support to assist their return to work from the start of their claim rather than waiting until they have undergone a work capability assessment. And we will use the universal jobmatch system to help people who are unable to return to their old job due to health issues to find more suitable employment.
The response also announces measures to strengthen sickness absence management within the public sector, following the progress made by the civil service in reducing absence and reviewing the terms of occupational sick pay policies. We will continue to work with public sector employers to bring transparency and accountability to the management of sickness absence.
The response has been informed by close working across Government and the devolved Administrations and input from employers, employee organisations and health care professionals across the country, who have all made an important contribution to the development of these proposals.