Occupational Health (OH) policy isn’t a topic you traditionally hear politicians discuss. Jointly overseen by the health and welfare departments, it can often struggle to gain traction against more headline-grabbing health and welfare system reforms. This too is reflected in low levels of awareness for OH among politicians, the public, and much of the business community.
However, the rise of workforce pressures and inflation has seen a renewed focus on OH. Expanding labour supply is one of the most obvious and politically appealing levers for the government to pull to tackle high inflation - the Prime Minister’s overriding priority.
The Spring Budget announced a package of new measures to grow the workforce, spanning from action in childcare to enable more parents of young children to work, through to skills and expanded employment support for people out of work. Another area of focus was health. The COVID-linked increase in the number of economically inactive working-age people has still not unwound, and policymakers have been grappling with how to turn this around.
Occupational Health has an important part to play in this, both helping to find ways for people to manage working with health conditions, and helping employees to prevent problems from escalating into more debilitating issues. Last month more was said about the potential steps to take in this area, building on the last significant policy document, Health is Everyone’s Business, published for consultation in 2019.
What the Government has set out
Two new consultations have now been published. The first covers tax incentives for OH, looking at options to expand the current Benefit in Kind exemption for medical benefits.
The second looks at steps that the Government and employers could take to increase OH coverage. It puts forward voluntary proposals intended as a baseline for quality provision by employers; compares the UK model with the different versions of legally mandated systems in France, Poland and Germany; and proposes measures to grow the OH workforce.
Both close for responses on 12 October, giving time to consider responses potentially as early as the next Autumn Statement, expected in late November.
The spectrum of outcomes
The Government response to these consultations is likely to fall along a spectrum. While there is strong in principle support for action there are significant constraints to manage – with a tight fiscal position and limited time until the next election.
Shaping outcomes – and what comes next
For business there are several areas to consider:
Ultimately, the question for the sector is less ‘will the Government do something to support the sector’ – and more ‘how far will it go and how quickly’. An incremental approach over the coming years, rather than a big bang is most likely. This means big opportunities for established OH and health players, but also important moments to shape the policy direction.
Verity Ryan and James Hedgeland co-lead Flint’s health practice, bringing together experience from the private sector, and government to help firms navigate where commercial and government interests meet. To discuss the implications of policy in this area, and how outcomes can be influenced, contact us here.