Workers could receive annual ‘health assessments’ as part of government plans to deal with long-term illness.
Ministers are considering giving companies generous subsidies for providing occupational health care.
The move – a trial that is expected to be announced in the budget next week by Jeremy Hunt – has come amid Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride’s inquiry into rising economic inactivity.
The number of working-age people classified as inactive has risen to nine million – 6.6 million excluding students – with health problems often blamed.
According to the Sunday Times, the initiative could lead to annual ‘health checks’ alongside normal assessments to detect things like obesity.
It has apparently been backed by Health Secretary Steve Barclay, who wants more focus on disease prevention to ease pressure on the NHS.
Mel Stride, Minister of Work and Pensions, has conducted a study on the increasing economic inactivity of the workforce
The magnitude of the Covid hit to the UK workforce was exposed last week as ONS figures showed inactivity rates have risen almost twice as fast as expected
ONS projections have shown that based on population changes alone, inactivity could add another 317,000 by 2026
A government source told the newspaper: “The more we can mobilize employers to test more, the sooner we can start picking up on conditions before workers even know they have a problem.”
“Just like an annual review, you would have an annual MOT, which would then be used to direct individuals to the most appropriate place for support.”
A worrying sign for Mr Hunt’s budget package is that the OBR watchdog would be skeptical about the government’s prospects for reducing inactivity levels – which will be crucial for future economic performance.
Discussions have been held with bodies such as the Confederation of British Industry, British Chambers of Commerce and the Federation of Small Businesses.
Large companies usually have in-house occupational health care or use private providers.
However, ministers acknowledge that it can be prohibitively expensive for smaller companies.
Mr Hunt is expected to announce a trial that will allow SMEs to recover 80 percent of company health care costs. The schedule would be expanded later if it looks promising.
The magnitude of the Covid hit to the UK workforce was exposed last week as figures showed inactivity rates have risen almost twice as fast as expected.
Only 59 percent of the sharp increase of half a million of those classified as economically inactive – not working despite being of the right age – can be explained by demographic change.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) modeled how factors such as population aging should affect the workforce, then compared those estimates to what actually happened.
It concluded that in total about 200,000 of the increase was not due to demographics.
That change was almost entirely focused on two age groups. In the 18-24 age group, inactivity would fall by 18,000, but in the third quarter of last year, inactivity had risen by 29,000.
Jeremy Hunt is expected to use his budget next week to announce a trial that will allow SMEs to recover 80 percent of company health care costs
Despite the rise, the inactivity rate seems to have been offset by a dramatic drop in the number of stay-at-home parents
In the 45-59 age group, there would be a decrease of 5,000 inactivity, but the number actually increased by 200,000.
The article examined the reasons for inactivity and found that the number of long-term sick people had increased by 462,000 in three years. The model suggested that the figure should have been only 41,000.
In the younger age groups, increases were attributed to more students, but also to an increase in ‘mental and nervous disorders’.
In the older age group, the problems seem to be more related to health than to early retirement, as suggested earlier.
It was mainly attributed to ‘other health problems or disabilities’ – which may include long-term Covid – and ‘problems related to back or neck’.
There was a peak of 44,000 inactives due to early retirement, but the demographic model suggested this figure should have been 87,000.
“The increase in the number of people retiring early may be smaller than expected due to recent policy changes around the state pension age,” the article said.