With all the government proposals announced for SMEs to keep staff well and happy it’s easy to lose track of them all. So let’s summarise. 
At the moment, these are still at the ‘shall we?’ stage - however it’s easy to see why the government is taking the issue of workforce seriously. To our mind, it’s not a question of ‘shall we put these proposals into place?’, it’s ‘how shall we?’. 
The detail needs working up, but we can see what’s on the horizon and we are already preparing our clients for it. 
Long-term sickness is now the main reason why more than 2.5 million people of working age are not ‘economically active’ - in other words their health means they are neither in work nor looking to be. 
At the same time, despite unemployment levels being at a relatively low level, businesses have more than 2 million vacancies and are crying out for staff. 
It’s a double spiral. 
On the one hand we see businesses are not as productive as they could be due to the vacancies they are carrying and the amount of money they pay out to cover when a colleague is ill. 
On the other, the economy is paying additional benefits for people who cannot work due to ill health; health and disability benefits for working-age adults is expected to hit £69 billion by 2027. 
In its consultation document ‘Working Better’ the government shares that a single job loss could cost employers £8,000 in recruitment costs and lost business. Our Verve Healthcare calculator goes one step further, giving you the opportunity to see the impact for your own sector. 
And let’s not forget the impact on the person. Sickness takes a toll on individuals’ health and wellbeing. Most people off sick would prefer not to be, and the inactivity, frustration, financial impact and social pressure that creates can cause even more pressure on their wellbeing. 
Getting people back to work and keeping them in work was a key feature of the Spring Budget and some of the proposals now becoming more clear include: 
👉 Tax relief for occupational health costs 
Occupational Health schemes and preventative approaches to ill health, like the service we offer at Verve Healthcare, have been proven to reduce spend on the effects of sickness. However, only 45% of workers in Great Britain have access to them. The government is looking at providing tax relief to employers 
👉 Expanding tax relief for benefits in kind 
At the moment, some benefits like employer-provided occupational health services are a taxable benefit, which means that a staff member would still pay tax and national insurance on the value of that benefit. The government is asking what benefits that are currently taxable might have a change in status. 
👉 A national ‘health at work’ standard for employers 
There is a variation across sectors, and especially among SMEs, in understanding what an occupational health service does and how to choose a good one. The government is looking at new guidance along with accreditation for providers and support for SMEs to comply with standards. 
👉 GPs to prescribe life coaches rather than issue sick notes 
We still all refer to them as sick notes, even though nowadays being ‘signed off’ is via a so-called fit note. A record 10.4 million fit notes were issued in the year ending 2022, with arguable speculation that mental ill health was causing more absences than in previous years. The government is proposing to address this by GPs and prescribers instead directing people to a life coaches to help people who are out of work with mental health, debt and other problems. 
👉 Changing the design of sick notes to include job support schemes 
Another proposal is for GPs and prescribers to refer people who are struggling at work to a job support schemes instead of signing them off. The detail is being worked up, but these could be career support coaches within a Job Centre or a similar. 
The proposals for occupational health are part of two consultations running at the moment. 
✔ One looks at the tax incentives for occupational health provision: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/joint-hmt-hmrc-consultation-on-tax-incentives-for-occupational-health 
✔ and the other at increasing occupational health use: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/occupational-health-working-better 
As an OH and healthcare provider, Verve Healthcare is submitting evidence and insight to both these consultations. We will point out what we are seeing in our own work and the benefit of a proactive approach, as well as share the feedback that we are hearing from our clients. 
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