Analysis of over 12 million fit notes, the New Labour replacement for sick notes, has just been published.
The results (relating to notes issued in 2016) are unsurprising but troubling. There was a 14% rise in notes relating to stress and anxiety and 31% were issued for mental health problems; these notes now account for the biggest proportion, overtaking numbers of notes issued for bad backs and other musculoskeletal conditions,
Fit notes were intended to provide employers with information on what workers can do. At the time the Labour government was less interested in tackling bad working practices or assessing work-related ill health, and more interested in appeasing nonsense about “sick note culture” put about by bosses and the tabloid press.
The fit note designed by the DWP was meant to help workers get better access to treatment and find ways to deal with health issues alongside your employer. But the recent analysis shows that just one in 20 of the notes resulted in accommodations being made by the employer. Most people are still being signed off work completely.
The report also showed that more than five million people were signed off work in the last year. There has been a renewed push for employers to do more to help combat mental health problems like depression and stress, but all of this fails to understand that the cause is as likely to be pressure from the boss! The same boss you are supposed to work with to help you.
Many mental health conditions are difficult to overcome, for a variety of reasons. Over 20% of those signed off are away from work for over three months. Just 3% of people signed off for respiratory problems stay away for three months or more.
Poverty, class and inequality are also a factor in the numbers of notes issued. Knowsley, in Merseyside, had the highest number of notes in proportion to its working-age population, while Richmond in south west London had the lowest.
The bosses’ organisation, the Confederation of British Industry said: “The health and well-being of employees is a key priority for employers. Businesses have a duty of care to their employees that considers mental and physical health as well as safety. Most firms will usually have policies in place — especially if they are large businesses — to help support their staff.”
But the best policies in any workplace will come out of strong organisation by the labour movement.
Collective action against poor conditions and a serious approach to mental health are the only things that can reduce the amount of workplace stress and anxiety.