The UK’s workforce takes around 137.3m days of sick leave each year
Richard Bell

New Gov initiative to address £100bn sinkhole created by illness at work

A new government initiative is aiming to shrink the multi-billion pound hole in the UK economy caused by illness.

Public Health England (PHE) teamed up with workplace health provider Healthy Working Futures to set out new guidelines for SMEs to promote a healthier workforce.

The advice offers SMEs, which account for 60% of private sector employment, questions on health and wellbeing covering areas such as smoking, fitness and sleep that staff can answer anonymously.

It is hoped the findings would enable a business to assess the specific needs of its workforce and create tailored steps to improve health and wellbeing.

PHE has also worked with Business in the Community to develop guidance for employers on issues including musculoskeletal (MSK) and mental health, in addition to advice on physical activity, diet and weight, drugs, alcohol and tobacco.

According to government data, illness among working age people puts a £100bn dent in the UK economy every year.

About 330k people become unemployed due to health issues, but for every unemployed person who secures a job, it is estimated that society makes an annual saving of around £12k.

The UK’s workforce takes around 137.3m days of sick leave each year – more than one-third of which are down to poor mental health or neck and lower back pain.

Speaking this week at the opening of Public Health England’s annual conference, its chief exec Duncan Selbie said: “Work is the key to a long, happy and healthy life. But sickness absence and tackling early retirement due to ill health are still major challenges for the economy.

“This new package of support for small businesses will help businesses improve the health of their staff.”

He continued: “We can no longer see the health service as the only solution to our ills. We’ve got individual responsibility, and so do employers. Keeping people healthy not only benefits the individual but also benefits the economy and the local community.

“We must do more to improve health outcomes, and in turn the health and economic productivity of the country. I urge employers to take advantage of this support.”

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