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Early part-time sick pay a lifeline for keeping those with fluctuating conditions in work

22 January 2015

A report released on Thursday (22 January) Fluctuating Conditions, Fluctuating Support  will call on government to support measures to increase the flexibility of sickness absence policies, to allow employees with fluctuating health conditions to preemptively arrange part-time sick leave. Lancaster University’s Work Foundation will also recommend that the scope of income protection insurance be further developed in order that businesses can better support those with fluctuating conditions to remain in work.

The Health at Work Policy Unit’s second policy paper looks at the challenges faced by employers in managing a workforce where the prevalence of chronic and fluctuating conditions is set to rise to around 40 per cent of the UK’s working age population by 2030. The paper argues that for those living with conditions where the symptoms fluctuate, such as asthma, depression or rheumatoid arthritis the quality of support received also fluctuates far too much. The paper argues that if the NHS, the welfare system and modern workplaces are going to support people living with these conditions to have active, high quality and fulfilling working lives they will need to do much more.

The ‘part-time sick pay’ system (which already operates in the Nordic countries) is designed to support people with temporarily reduced work capability to remain in work by making sick pay arrangements more flexible. Trials in Finland have found that those with musculoskeletal disorders had 20% less work disability days over the following year than those on normal sick leave. In addition, on average, those taking partial sick leave returned to their normal working duties eight days earlier than those on normal sick-leave.

Other key recommendations include:

• Improving and expanding Access to Work’s provision for fluctuating conditions
• Developing an employee owned ‘health at work’ record
• Developing a ‘best practice’ database of adjustments and supports for people with fluctuating conditions
• Improving access to specialist occupational health support for small business through partnership with NHS and other providers
• Increasing local commissioning of occupational health and vocational rehabilitation support

Commenting on the paper, lead author Karen Steadman - researcher at The Work Foundation - said: 'Fluctuating health conditions are a very real threat to the sustainability of the UK workforce, and the resilience of UK businesses. It is our hope that government heeds this warning, and takes action to support employers in developing businesses that reflect the needs of the workforce, ensuring their productivity into the future.

'The introduction of statutory part-time sick pay and growing income protection would go a long way to supporting those with fluctuating conditions. However, it is essential that government also impacts upon workplace culture and practice to ensure that employers fulfil their obligations to help their employees.'

Liz Sayce, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said: 'This report is very timely. Many (though not all) employers have grasped their obligation to make workplace adjustments for people with stable impairments – for instance, providing chairs or adjustable desk heights for people with specific physical impairments. But when it comes to the rights of people with an impairment that changes week to week - or hour to hour - it’s a different story.

'People’s rights to adjustments are often ignored, and government programmes are not geared up to work effectively. Many of our members tell us they want to work but need flexibility and tailored support to do so – and with that support, could avoid long-term unemployment. For others, pain or fatigue are ongoing and just vary in intensity and working in traditional employment settings would be difficult or impossible.

'This report analyses policy solutions. It recognises the key role that Access to Work could play, including by supporting employers to hire temporary staff to cover absence when individuals need the time off. I hope this report will lead to the debate and action that the issue deserves.'


Notes to Editors:

1. Two of the report’s authors, Professor Stephen Bevan and Victoria Shreeve are both available for interviews, blogs, briefings and written comments.
2. The Health at Work Policy Unit (HWPU) provides evidence-based policy recommendations and commentary on contemporary issues around health, wellbeing and work.
3. The report, Fluctuating Conditions, Fluctuating Support, is available under embargo from the press office.
4. The report will be launched at an event on Thursday, 22 January 2015 from 14:30 - 16:30. 
5. The HWPU is supported by a grant from Napp Pharmaceuticals Holdings Limited and Bupa, who have had no editorial input.
6. A full list of the recommendations can be found in the appendix.
7. Lancaster University’s Work Foundation transforms people’s experience of work and the labour market through high quality applied research that empowers individuals and influences public policies and organisational practices. The Work Foundation is part of Lancaster University – an alliance that enables both organisations to further enhance their impact.

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Fluctuating conditions- Policy recommendations