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April 9, 2008

‘Worklessness’ dominates regeneration policy

The dominant theme in most Government funding to the Third Sector these days relates to getting folk off welfare into work. But an independent health review has warned that dead-end jobs in sub-standard workplaces are major contributors to the ill health of poor people.

New Start Magazine

Dead-end jobs in poor workplaces are contributing to a sickness culture costing Britain £100bn a year, an independent review has warned.

The review by national director for health and work, Dame Carol Black, said employers and trade unions should work together to ensure employment offers ‘a degree of responsibility and a sense of self worth’ as well as a regular income.

For someone who is sick, ‘good work’, which is healthy, safe and offers the individual some influence over how work is done, is better for a person’s physical and mental health than taking long periods of time off and potentially sliding into incapacity benefit. Such work would also minimise the likelihood of people being made ill by their jobs in the first place.

The proposal is part of a more general challenge to the assumption that recovery from illness is best aided by taking time off work. In support of the new approach, a fit for work service, supported by the NHS, would provide treatment, advice and guidance on a range on medical and non-medical issues including debt, housing and physiotherapy.

Pilots of the service would support those with mental health problems also work with those on incapacity benefit as well as people in the early stages of illness.

The electronic ‘fit note’ would replace the sick note, emphasising what a patient was able to do and when he or she might be expected to return to work.

Dame Carol’s report was published as the government’s scientific reference group on health inequalities announced that the health gap between rich and poor had barely budged since the mid-1990s, despite overall improvements in health across all social groups.

Latest figures revealed a slight narrowing in the infant mortality gap, virtually no change in the adult male mortality gap and a widening of gap in women’s life expectancy between 2003-5.

Deaths from cancer and heart disease, child road accident casualties and teenage pregnancies showed a narrowing of inequalities in absolute terms but not in relative terms.

In other areas, for example smoking, there was no narrowing of the gap between social groups.

Inequalities expert Sir Michael Marmot, reference group chair, said it was ‘simply too early to say if too little has been done or the right actions were not taken’.