In October 2016, the Department for Work & Pensions and Department of Health issued Work, Health and Disability Green Paper: Improving Lives.
The paper highlighted the cost of ill-health to the economy, estimated at around £100bn per year with almost 140m days lost in 2016, more than 45m of which were due to reasons of mental health or musculoskeletal conditions.
Mental health conditions
It stated that 4.6m disabled people and people with long-term health conditions are out of work. Just 48 per cent of disabled people are in employment, compared to 80 per cent of the non-disabled population.
The paper also posed a number of questions regarding the role that smaller employers could play in supporting the health of their workforce, a theme which the government has been keen to follow through subsequently. Just one extract shows why they are interested and the view that government held of the insurance customer base.
It said: “Smaller employers are also important: they represent the vast majority of UK businesses and employ around 36 per cent of the UK workforce.
“Coverage is particularly low among small and medium-sized employers. In part this might be because some insurance providers do not offer products to very small businesses, but cost and awareness of the products are also thought to be a factor (between £250 to £450 per employee per year).”
The paper went on to say that government wants to see employers doing more to invest in their employees’ health and wellbeing, stressing the benefits that such investment brings.
The government engaged very widely across the many stakeholders, including the insurance market, receiving around 6,000 responses in total. Subsequently, it published a Road Map at the end of November 2017, bringing greater clarity on the areas it plans to prioritise and setting out the next stages of this important work.
The Road Map replaces the untimed pledge in the Green Paper to halve the disability employment gap with a more specific ambition to increase the number of disabled people in work from 3.5m to 4.5m in 10 years’ time. Annual reports showing progress will be published but meeting such ambitious targets will need many firms, irrespective of size, to contribute.
Inevitably, much of the discussion in the paper and now in the Road Map, continues to be centred on the role of the employer. Consequently, both documents go beyond the scope of how insurance can help. Insurance does, though, have an important role to play, one which could expand massively, given the right conditions.
It is encouraging that the government intends to continue talking with the insurance industry. The prize can be very big if the market can provide the mix of benefits and services which support and are relevant to a modern employer. That mix will see a greater emphasis on the services which help employees to return to work where they are able to do.