Time for change – Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) under the spotlight
At this time of year, more than any other, it is fitting to reflect on the past and present and consider how we can set goals to strive for in the new year – well, at least it seems that the government is doing that in terms of the role that healthy workforces have in a productive UK economy.
In October 2016, the UK Government published a consultation/green paper entitled ‘Work, health and disability: improving lives’ with the objective to “transform the employment prospects of disabled people and people with long-term health conditions” recognising that the disability employment gap was too wide and that 137 million days are lost to sickness each year. In the Ministerial foreword, the two Minsters from the Department of Health and DWP outlined their concerns that the impact of sickness absence means ‘employers …lose valuable skills and health services … bear additional costs’. Whilst it’s no doubt true that sickness absence needs managing by employers, there is a very real cost when the NHS and other support services are not joined up with employers in trying to get employees back to work. SSP is fully funded by employers but undervalued by employees as the continued inclusion of the word ‘statutory’ in its title leads employees to believe the opposite. Whilst the 2016 paper covers a lot of ground around disability, naturally it was the proposals around SSP that will be key to payroll professionals.
I’m part of the Statutory Payments Forum that will now take the SSP proposals forward and we’ve been keen to stress that the complexities of the system mean that it needs significant lead time and much stakeholder engagement, not least because of the devolved nature of SSP (the rules are different in Northern Ireland and many areas of sickness support are devolved to Scotland and Wales).
Last month, the government published its next steps in this area, recognising the partnership role that employers, healthcare providers and the welfare state play in supporting those who fall sick or who have a disability that makes them less likely to be able access and sustain employment.
Specifically, that will mean:
- Reforming the fit note
- Improving the Access to Work system to allow disabled employees to take equipment with them from job to job
- Supporting phased return to work without this impacting SSP
- A possible two-tier rate of SSP with an incentivised rate for those on a phased return to work
- Improving the guidance around SSP
- Exploring whether SSP should be a day one employment right as proposed in the Taylor review
- Considering if there should be a right to return to your old job after a period of absence
- Considering a national insurance contributions holiday (not at all sure what this means or how it would work!
Looking at the Fit Note, recent research carried out by DWP shows that only 6.6% of Fit Notes indicate what adjustments could be made to the job role, whereas it should facilitate a return to work and help people stay in work where appropriate, by providing information to the employer about what support might enable that to happen. DWP are beginning the process to change the legislation to allow other healthcare professionals to issue Fit Notes or possibly the advisory Fitness for Work report as an alternative, as this can already be issued by other healthcare professionals.
The flexibility in working models provided by technology have transformed the world of work in the 21st century, now we need an SSP model that harnesses those opportunities too so that we don’t lose the skills and talents of those who have health and disability issues. I’m really pleased to be part of this work and hope we can deliver an SSP system fit for the future. None of this will be a quick fix, Brexit will ensure that any reforms take time and won’t probably be legislated for until the 2020s, but that pace of change is fortuitous in this area. The government itself recognises this is a ten-year programme. SSP has served us well since 1984 but after 30 years it needs its own health check.