Workplace health will help deliver economic growth

The Office for National Statistics announced this month there are now 2.8 million people in the UK who are classified as not looking for work due to health issues. This represents an increase of a third on the pre-pandemic level. IOSH policy expert Corey Edwards considers what this means for workers, businesses and the UK economy.

In light of the latest long-term sickness figures, I urge the government to prioritise investment in occupational safety and health (OSH) to keep people in work and prevent the workers of today becoming the economically inactive of tomorrow. The government’s post-Brexit priorities include its pledges to ‘grow the economy’ and ‘cut waiting lists’. OSH investment can help deliver both.

Failing to address long-term sickness and support the more than a quarter of working-age people in the UK who are economically inactive will hinder such pledges. And there are a further 3.7 million people – a 60 per cent increase in the last decade – who are working with a health condition that restricts the type or amount of work they can do.

What we have currently is a tragic waste of human talent and potential. A recent Guardian editorial (see the related links section for full article) called this out, saying: “It ought to be a national mission to prevent human life on such a scale from going to waste.” Recognising the importance of revitalising the NHS to strengthening the UK economy, the editorial also called for “a wider system rethink about employment conditions, pay and the dignity of work.”

Our challenge is to find people appropriate and supportive work that’s good for them, good for society and good for our economy.

Strong worker and public health protections, in the form of robust workplace regulatory standards, supports rather than hinders a thriving economy. IOSH continues to advocate a prevention-first approach, encouraging:

  • the adoption of psychosocial risk management strategies
  • greater access to occupational health services
  • a revisiting of both the Employment Bill and the draft Mental Health Act Reform Bill.

Poor mental health costs UK employers up to £45bn a year through absenteeism, presenteeism and staff turnover. Yet studies have shown that every £1 invested by employers in the mental health of their people brings a return, and that return can be as much as £5. There’s no question investment in good OSH practice yields valuable returns and should never be viewed as an avoidable cost.

I’m not saying that tackling the UK’s economic inactivity rate is going to be easy, however. Far from it. The Resolution Foundation, in a recent statement, put it this way: “Tackling rising ill-health is a huge social and economic challenge that we’ll be facing throughout the 2020s, as well as getting the UK employment rate back up to and beyond pre-pandemic levels.”

But boosting people’s mental health and wellbeing is undoubtedly the way to go. Yet it must be real, it must have an impact, and it must be sustained.

See original IOSH news feed

By Published On: March 17th, 2024Categories: Bridge The Gap News

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