Proposed reforms to Occupational Health at work
On 20 July 2023, the Department for Work and Pensions launched a consultation on occupational health provision, Occupational Health: Working Better (Working Better consultation).
The Working Better consultation focused on the role of the government, employers and occupational health (OH) providers in improving productivity and preventing ill-health related unemployment. Also on 20 July 2023, HMRC and HM Treasury published a consultation considering how the tax system could be used to increase OH provision, with a focus on a possible expansion of the current income tax and NICs exemptions for certain medical benefits in kind. Both consultations closed on 12 October 2023.
On 22 November 2023, the DWP published the response to the Working Better consultation, confirming its intention to take forward the following actions:
- Support the development of a voluntary minimum framework for quality OH provision. The voluntary framework will aim to set out the minimum level of OH intervention that employers could adopt to help improve employee health at work and will be tailored to different business sizes.
- Explore new voluntary national workplace health and disability standards to provide best practice guidance for employers to support people with health conditions and disabilities to start, stay and succeed in work.
- Explore options for a potential small and medium enterprise (SME) group purchasing framework supported by a digital marketplace. This initiative would aim to enable SMEs to pool their purchasing to benefit from economies of scale.
- Develop a long-term strategic OH workforce approach to build a multi-disciplinary work and health workforce.
The government does not propose to make OH provision mandatory for employers or introduce automatic enrolment for Occupational Health. The OH proposals are part of wider planned reforms to the welfare system, which include proposed reforms to fit notes. The response to the Tax OH consultation will be published “in due course”.
This is an area that various governments have tried to tackle over the years, the aim being to get more people back to work and off long-term sickness absence. Whether this new push will achieve anything more than previous iterations remains to be seen but what seems to be lacking is an acknowledgement that the way businesses handle sickness absence is long overdue for reform. How can it possibly be a disciplinary matter and yet this is how many businesses deal with it?
You can find the DWP consultation here.
This blog was written by Karen Jackson, MD/Founder of didlaw (2008).