The Chancellor has announced two consultations on the role of occupational health in the workplace, fuelling speculation that taxation or benefit in kind rules could be changed for certain health interventions.
He has also confirmed that he would set aside £400m for musculoskeletal and mental health support.
According to Hunt, a £3m pilot programme will help people with special needs make the transition into the workforce.
The government is also releasing a white paper today on the reform of disability benefits.
According to the Chancellor, the work capability assessment would be eliminated, allowing disabled individuals to look for employment without worrying about losing their support.
To assist disabled people in finding employment, a new project dubbed “universal support” will be launched. The programme could assist up to 50,000 people annually and will cost up to £4,000 per person, according to Hunt.
Hunt said: “We also want to help those who are forced to leave work because of a health condition such as back pain or a mental health issue.
“We should give them support before they end up leaving their job, so I am also announcing a £400m plan to increase the availability of mental health and musculoskeletal resources and expand the Individual Placement and Support scheme.
“Because occupational health provided by employers has a key role to play, I will … bring forward two new consultations on how to improve its availability and double the funding for the small company subsidy pilot.”
Katharine Moxham, spokesperson for Group Risk Development says: “It’s really encouraging to see government acknowledging the human wastage that long-term sickness absence from the workplace can bring and announcing positive steps to de-risk the journey back into work. It needs to go much further, however, in addressing how people fall out of work in the first place, as well as how to encourage them back.
“We must deal with the question of how people end up being economically inactive in the first place. In many cases, employees wouldn’t leave work if they were better supported by their employer. The support is available for companies to offer: they will find help within their benefits package – via their, private medical, occupational health or other benefits. For example, as well as meeting the costs of long-term sick pay, a group income protection policy will include access to help from vocational rehabilitation experts, and access to advice and support with both short- and long-term health conditions and making reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010. An insurer might even help with the extra costs of keeping someone in work – such as providing or modifying equipment – on an ex-gratia basis.
“So, it’s time for government to be proactive and encourage more employers to move towards providing a better level of long-term sick pay and support during absence. This will mitigate the number of absences, and get people back to work. Group income protection providers can help deliver that outcome for employers and employees alike, whilst saving the state considerable effort and cost.
“The group risk industry has long understood that, as well as providing financial independence, work plays a vital role in promoting mental wellbeing, building self-esteem and identity, and providing fulfilment and opportunities for social interaction. It’s not surprising that government is refocussing the welfare safety net to encourage those who are economically inactive to move back into work, but it needs to do more.”