Tax breaks should be given to companies that provide advice, physiotherapy and flu shots to their staff, the report says

Companies that give their staff access to counselling, physiotherapy and flu jabs at work should receive tax breaks, a report has said.

The relief would reward companies that help keep Britons healthy and at work, rather than receiving benefits or getting sick.

Other recommendations include offering NHS Health Checks in offices and factories to increase uptake and lowering the qualifying age from 40 to 25 in areas of the country where unemployment rates are highest.

It comes as 2.8 million people are currently economically inactive due to long-term illness – the highest level since the early 1990s.

Most cite mental health or musculoskeletal conditions, such as back or neck pain, with the toll hampering economic growth.

Most economically inactive people cite mental health or musculoskeletal conditions, such as back or neck pain, with the toll hampering economic growth (Stock Image)

The think tank Policy Exchange, which launched the ‘None of Our Business?’ report wants workplaces to play a greater role in supporting the nation’s health.

It says this could reduce the number of people on long-term sick leave, save the NHS money and reduce its growing benefits bill.

The report has received cross-party support, including from Chloe Smith and David Blunkett, both former work and pensions ministers.

Ministers have admitted that tackling the growing problem of poor health among the working-age population is a ‘top priority’.

Policy Exchange aims to increase access to occupational health services, which are currently only available to 45 percent of workers in Britain.

Large employers are three times more likely than small and medium-sized businesses to make these available.

GPs issued 11 million sick notes last year – formally known as ‘fit notes’ – of which 94 percent were marked as ‘not fit to work’.

But the report’s authors say GPs could reduce this number if they were allowed to refer patients to occupational health professionals for ‘additional assessment’.

They can then suggest adjustments to the workplace and assist with the rehabilitation of staff.

Businesses using empty high street premises to deliver physiotherapy or vaccination clinics could get discounts on their business rates, as could those who partner with other local businesses to provide ‘group services’, the experts added.

Furthermore, they want more doctors and nurses to be trained in occupational healthcare and are calling on the leisure sector to play a greater role in supporting people with back and neck pain.

Sickness absence and poor health among working-age people is estimated to cost the country £150 billion a year, which is almost as big as the annual budget of NHS England.

Last year, 186 million working days were lost due to illness or injury.

Employees were sick on average 7.8 days, the highest level in ten years and two days more than in 2019.

Of the 11 million ‘fit notes’ issued last year, only 6.9 percent indicated that a person was ‘potentially suitable for work’ and offered workplace advice.

Sean Phillips, head of health and social care at Policy Exchange, and lead author of the report, said: ‘If we want to break the cycle of poor health and rising government spending, we need to think differently about the role employers can play in it. preventing ill health and supporting employees more effectively to stay in or return to work.

‘Expanding occupational health services – both within and outside the NHS – is key to this, but we cannot convince employers to ‘do the right thing’ by simply requiring them to do more.

‘Incentives are needed, together with clear, targeted information, so that employers can choose high-quality and cost-effective services to support their workforce.

‘Spending on disability benefits is expected to rise from £19 billion to £29 billion during the next parliament, while the disability bill will increase from £26 billion to £34 billion.

A third of people will be unemployed for four weeks or more, by which time 20 percent will never return to work.

Once people are laid off for six months, 80 percent of them will never return to work.

Meanwhile, it is estimated that companies spend almost £1,000 a year per employee on sick leave.

Last week the government announced an Occupational Health Taskforce, chaired by Dame Carol Black, to raise employers’ awareness of the benefits of occupational health.

Businesses using vacant high street properties to deliver physiotherapy or vaccination clinics can get discounts on their business rates (Stock Image)

Businesses using vacant high street properties to deliver physiotherapy or vaccination clinics can get discounts on their business rates (Stock Image)

In a foreword to the report, Lord Blunkett, former Secretary of State for Labour, Work and Pensions, said: ‘The poor health of working-age people is holding Britain back.

‘It’s the big drag on economic growth, increasing pressure on the NHS, increasing demand for social services and hampering productivity… there are many people who could benefit enormously from physiotherapy, a chiropractor or mental health care, who then clearly would be able to return to work.

‘Conservative MP Chloe Smith said: ‘Policy Exchange’s latest report could hardly be more timely. Long-term illness is the biggest cause of economic inactivity today.

‘While the government has made great progress in tackling this issue, a renewed focus on strengthening the link between healthcare services and employers is needed to boost opportunity, productivity and growth in the coming months.’