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Government asks GPs to help end ‘sick-note’ culture

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Work and Pensions Secretary Alan Johnson has called upon doctors to encourage sick-employees to get back to work.

Addressing the Royal Society of Medicine Johnson said the forthcoming White Paper on public health looks to push the benefits of rehabilitation through work.

“While we must provide security for those who cannot work, increasingly doctors agree that signing some people off as long-term sick is not always the best way to deal with their health problems. For people who are able to work again, a job can itself be an important step in the road to recovery and rehabilitation.”

Johnson spoke of the important role GPs can play in helping to wean claimants of Incapacity Benefit.

There are three Incapacity Benefit rates paid to people unable to work due to illness or disability. The payments range from £55.90 and £74.15 per week with the average total payment coming in at £84.51 with the inclusion of additional allowances.

The Department of Work and Pensions say that nine out of 10 people who claim Incapacity Benefit want to get back to work but research shows that the longer they are on the benefit the longer they are likely to be stuck on it.

Johnson and the Trades Union Congress (TUC) have hailed the government’s ‘Pathways to work’ pilot a success. These combine mandatory work focused interviews with expert personal advisers with a £40 per week ‘return to work credit’. Early evidence shows the scheme is getting twice as many Incapacity Benefit claimants back to work than in other areas.

Predictors suggest that if this trend continues and a nationwide programme is rolled-out the numbers claiming the benefit could be reduced by 110,000 a year, a saving of over £110 million a year.

Johnson said: “We are already starting to see very encouraging evidence that more people are leaving benefit in Pathways to Work pilot areas compared to the rest of the country. The number of people on Incapacity Benefit getting jobs nationally has risen and in Pathways areas the success rate is double the national average.”

Responding to the Prime Minister’s speech on welfare and public services reform recently Frances O’Grady, TUC Deputy General Secretary said:

“The big problems that Incapacity Benefit claimants have finding and getting work need bold but fair solutions. The Prime Minister has backed successful pilot projects that are helping rather than forcing the sick and disabled back into work. Rolled out nationally this ‘carrot’ rather than a ‘stick’ approach could fill 110,000 jobs a year and save £110 million annually.”

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Annie Hayes

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