The Office for National Statistics (ONS) recently reported that half a million more were people out of work because of long-term sickness absence, which prompted the announcement in the 2022 Autumn Statement of a review of issues holding back workforce participation. Therefore, employers could find 2023 is the year they are expected to make significant inroads into closing the disability employment gap. Those with group risk benefits in place – including employer-sponsored life assurance, income protection and critical illness – will find they are well-placed to do so.
According to the ONS reporting, “long-term sickness is an increasingly common reason for economic inactivity, making up 28% of all those out of the labour market in June to August 2022, compared with 25% at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic”.
Although it is thought that the pandemic’s wider impact on health is an important factor in this increase, other factors are highlighted as significant, including long-term chronic or progressive conditions, musculoskeletal issues, mental health illness and NHS waiting lists. The reporting also highlights that “while older people still make up the majority of those inactive because of long-term sickness, the largest relative increases in recent years have been among those aged 25 to 34.”
As the government strives to tackle the factors at play here and to boost the numbers of disabled people of all ages in employment in 2023 and beyond, employers will have a greater responsibility to ensure that everyone is well supported and can benefit from being in work.
Post-pandemic and in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, employees too will have a greater awareness not only of the need to stay in the workplace but also the need for financial support in the event of death, serious illness or accident – for themselves and their household. This will mean there will be increased appreciation of group risk benefits in comparison to other employee benefits during the next calendar year.
Many employers do now recognise the value in supporting the health and wellbeing of their workers but, sadly, many employees still fall out of work because of long-term or chronic ill health.
This is where group risk benefits come into their own. Not only do they include integrated support with prevention and employee wellbeing (such as apps encouraging better health behaviours and fast access to GP services) but group income protection in particular will also include vocational rehabilitation, fast access to second medical opinion, physiotherapy and talking therapies, help with making modifications and reasonable adjustments, mediation and support with staying in or returning to work.
As the support services available to employees within group risk benefits become more and more comprehensive and better understood, utilisation will increase as employees access the types of support that meet their individual needs and address their own specific health concerns.
With extra pressures on an already strained NHS, more employees could find themselves waiting for diagnosis or treatment. The availability of support within group risk benefits can mean that employees will be financially supported if they do need to wait for treatment and can also access support to prevent their condition from worsening, or to manage symptoms during the wait for treatment.
Multiple catalysts point to 2023 being an important year for employers to need to offer the support available under group risk benefits to their people. Most employees will be in a weaker financial position and many are going to need more support. Employers are equally going to be looking to do more for less, trying to balance their own books while meeting their employees’ needs. At the same time, government is likely to expect more of them in terms of closing the employment disability gap.
All this could result in 2023 being the year in which group risk, often the unsung hero in an employer’s kitbag, gets better acknowledgement for the all-around support it delivers.
Katharine Moxham is spokesperson at Group Risk Development (GRiD)