This week The Work Foundation hosted a ‘Health at Work’ Reception to celebrate the high profile and progress which the issue has achieved among employers and policy-makers in recent years. But, with thoughtful speeches from Dame Carol Black, national director for Health and Work and Lord Freud, shadow minister for Welfare Reform, the audience was reminded that profile and momentum means little without implementation and real change in UK workplaces.
Dame Carol highlighted the impressive growth in awareness about workplace health which she had witnessed during her time as national director – indeed, she was generous enough to acknowledge the part which The Work Foundation has played in this. However, she called on the audience to play their part in making 2010 a ‘Year of Action’. Among other things she highlighted the progress being made by the government’s ‘Fit for Work’ pilots and the support being given to small businesses with workplace health problems. However, she warned that without the resolve of employers and GPs to embrace the principles of early intervention, job retention and rehabilitation, progress towards improving labour market opportunities for those with long-term and chronic conditions would be slow.
Lord Freud, echoing the sentiment of Dame Carol’s plea for action, focused on some of the mechanisms which might improve implementation. First he argued for support for those out of work to be driven by ‘outcome-based commissioning’ – a form of payment by results which would encourage sustainable employment for those with chronic illness or disability. Second, he argued that Good Work was an important way of ensuring that jobs were sustainable and of sufficient quality to engage people in meaningful activity, prevent a return to benefits dependency and, crucially, to improve their wellbeing.
The evening, sponsored by the healthcare company Abbott, also marked the launch of our latest piece of research, ‘Spondyloarthropathy and Work: A review of UK evidence’. The report looks at the effects of a range of conditions, including ankylosing spondylitis, psoriatic arthritis and Crohn’s disease, on a person’s ability to work, and examines what more needs to be done to best support the ‘work ability’ of people living with these conditions.
The audience was something of a ‘Who’s Who’ of luminaries from the world of work and wellbeing, including Dr Steve Boorman (Royal Mail), Professor Sayeed Khan (EEF), Dr Bob Grove (Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health) and Dr Paul Litchfield (BT). Many other friends of The Work Foundation were present and joined us in expecting 2010 to be a milestone year in ensuring that the health of the UK workforce becomes a major priority for the government, clinicians and employers.