UNISON has attacked the government’s obsession with sickness rates, after figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that days lost due to sickness absence fell from 178 million in 1993 to 131 million in 2013.
The figures also show that the differences in absence rates between the public and private sectors have narrowed, and that where you live and work is a far more likely cause of poor health and high absence rates than what sector you work in.
The ONS figures reveal that those living in deprived areas with poor health – where private sector employers are least likely to be located – have higher absence rates than more prosperous areas.
Further, the figures illustrated that absence rates are highest in caring occupations, which have a high incidence of musculoskeletal injuries.
UNISON is concerned that the more recent falls in sickness absence are being driven by workers’ fears of losing their jobs, rather than any improvements in health and safety.
The union’s head of health and safety Tracey Harding said: “These figures show the folly of this government’s obsession with absence rates, rather than focussing on the underlying work-related health and safety issues.
“UNISON supports any initiatives that reduce sickness absence by improving the health of the workers. But if the government really wanted to make a difference it would reverse its policies of attacking the basic principles of good health and safety management on the one hand, and cutting back on public services and jobs on the other.”