Published byREC

Employers suggest ways next government can tackle UK’s long-term sickness rates

In a survey by the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC), employers say greater childcare provision is key to reducing economic inactivity.

In the weeks before the General Election was called, the government was keen to tackle what it called a ‘sick note culture’ in the UK.  

It led REC to commission pollsters Savanta to ask employers what a government should pursue to reduce long-term sickness rates in the UK. The results can inform the next government on how to tackle the high economic inactivity rate in the UK. 

The most chosen option of those presented was for government to expand the eligibility for 30-hour childcare entitlement to parents or carers in employment, training or education (55%). A close second, third and fourth was tackling NHS waiting lists and supporting those on long-term sick back into work (54%), targeted occupational health support to give long-term sick access to specialist help and back into work (53%) and promote flexible working initiatives to enhance their work-life balance (52%). 

REC Deputy Chief Executive Kate Shoesmith said:

“It is good for companies’ productivity, and thereby the economy, if we unlock a route to get more people into some of the 1.7 million vacant job postings across the UK. But the diverse solutions given by employers to tackle economic inactivity in our survey suggests solving it is not straightforward or a quick fix for the next government.” 

Kate Shoesmith said:

“We welcome the focus to increase childcare provision in both the Labour and Conservative manifesto commitments – but as our survey shows, this must be a priority focus with change happening within the first 100 days of a new government. This will help parents or carers in training or education, and those looking to return to work after a period of absence.  

“The survey shows why tackling NHS waiting lists is also fundamental to fixing our inactivity problem. Any future government must be honest with itself and electorate about the importance of partnering with external suppliers on recruitment and retention strategies for healthcare staff. Waiting lists won’t come down without the massive contribution of agency health staff. Fixing the procurement system should be a priority for the next Health Secretary, and our industry is eager to play a part in plans to get the NHS firing on all cylinders. 

“52 percent of survey respondents also attributed better work life balance through flexible work options as a means to tackle sickness. We know that many people work in temporary agency roles to balance a variety of lifestyle needs. Managing a health condition is often cited as a reason people choose to work through agencies, so they pick and choose when and how they work.  We need greater acknowledgement from the next government that different ways of working support the economic and social needs of the country.” 

Other options popular with employers were better education and awareness around the reasonable adjustments process and how this is practically implemented (43%) and making all employee assistance programmes (EAPs) an entirely tax-free benefit (36%).