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“2020health is an important and thoughtful contributor to the health debate”

Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, Chairman, Health Select Committee


Press Release Employers should take a lead on preventing sickness absence

2020health’s report out today calls on employers to do much more to ensure an employee’s mild illness doesn’t escalate into long-term absence and sickness-related worklessness.

Drawing on experience from Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, the report, “Work as a health outcome in the devolved nations: How Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales tackle sickness-related worklessness” details how schemes in these countries are making much more progress on reducing sickness absence.

The Glasgow Works project has been instrumental in bringing down sickness benefit claimant rates in the city from 18% to 12% in the past twelve years.

Northern Ireland Civil Service aims to be an example of good practice to other public sector bodies in the country. With 26,000 staff it is one of Northern Ireland's largest employers and its health and wellbeing programme has helped reduce sickness absence from 15-16 days per person per year in 2002 to 10 days in 2012.

The successful sickness management policy of the Royal College of Nursing in Wales is run by senior management and the human resources team in partnership with trade unions. Like the Northern Ireland Social Security Agency, the RCN uses a trigger point system to identify employees who would benefit from referral to the internal occupational health programme or from adjustments to the workplace or working schedule The success of the RCN programme is borne out by its sickness absence rate of 2.5% per year, compared with a national average of 4.5%.

Julia Manning, CEO of 2020health said, “It is in the interest of employers who are liable for sick pay, to ensure that their employees are well supported if they become ill. Much illness is compatible with work, even if adjustments have to be made to working conditions.”

“Our report shows that when employers put systems in place to support people staying in work, sickness absence goes down. Employers should be encouraged by government to do this. Employees who know they will be well supported in sickness and in health will ultimately be happier and more productive.”

The Sickness Absence review report in 2011 (see notes) recommended that expenditure by employers targeted at keeping sick employees in work (or speeding their return to work), such as medical treatments or vocational rehabilitation, should attract tax relief.

The sickness benefit rate in Scotland has fallen from 10.1% to 8.3% in the past ten years. Rates in Wales have fallen from 12.1% to 9.4% over the same period. Both countries have seen a much steeper decline than England. While the claimant rate in England has fallen by 10%, in Scotland and Wales it has declined by 18% and 22% respectively.

Notes to Editors
1. For interviews, comment or further information please contact

2. is an independent, grassroots, think-tank passionate about creating a healthy society. We identify issues and bring informed people together to create these solutions. Please visit for more information and full publications.

3. The government called for a major Sickness Absence Review in February 2011. Led by David Frost, former Director General of the British Chambers of Commerce and Dame Carol Black, the then National Director for Health and Work it reported in November 2011 but the Government has still not issued a response.


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