Britain cannot afford to ignore the support needs of workers with long-term conditions
25 April 2013
The Health and Work Assessment and Advisory Service (HWAAS), which will be introduced next year, is designed to support those who have been on sick leave for more than four weeks back to work. In our recent paper, Returning to Work, we welcomed the new service - which has the potential to fill a large and important gap in current provision by giving specialist advice and support to people on long-term sick leave.
We also raised concerns that the service would not support people with conditions such as cancer, who often need more than four weeks of sick leave. We were therefore disappointed with the response from Mark Hoban MP earlier this week (23 April) to Stephen Timms’ question, how will the service meet the needs of people with long-term conditions?
As Mark Hoban remarked: “We recognise that the service will not be appropriate for all patients, such as those with acute medical conditions, those undergoing treatment and those with long-term conditions.” Yet, the government’s response to the Sickness Absence Review states that the “vast majority” of people will be referred to HWAAS after four weeks of sickness absence. Doesn’t this imply that the service will also be available to people with long-term, fluctuating conditions which require longer than a four-week sickness absence? The government needs to be much clearer. It is also unclear whether the thousands of “lost cases” referred to in the government’s response should be supported back to work at all or what type of service would be appropriate.
Increasingly, evidence shows that with the right type of support, people with long-term conditions are able to return to and stay at work. These interventions have also proven to be economically effective. For example, Macmillan Cancer Support’s vocational rehabilitation pilots (2012), showed that if an individual is supported back into work, the resulting tax returns will (on average) outweigh the cost of the intervention within the first three months of employment.
Supporting people with long-term conditions such as cancer benefits the economy as well as the individual. For example, there are approximately 560,000 people with cancer in the workforce today, contributing over £16 billion to the UK economy every year, which is more than the UK house building industry (Oxford Economics 2012). And, according to a Policy Exchange report (2010), approximately £5.3 billion in productivity was lost in 2008 as a result of cancer survivors not returning to work.
If people with cancer, and other long-term conditions, are denied access to advice and support they desperately need to remain in work the cost to the economy is likely to increase. The government need to address this now, especially as the numbers of people with a long term conditions is expected to rise over the next 20 years. While the numbers of people living with cancer in the UK is set to double from two million to four million.
The question is not only, how can we support everyone with a long-term condition who is ready to return to work? but can we afford to not help those who want to return to work to drop out? There is a strong business case for providing greater access to vocation rehabilitation and HWAAS could be the solution. It is disappointing that the government appears to be ignoring it.