Sick pay faces overhaul under government plans 
Review into disability and long-term sickness suggests need for greater flexibility over returns to work; ‘fit note’ regime also likely to change 
Ministers are proposing an overhaul of statutory sick pay, and the system of ‘fit notes’ for employees suffering ill-health, as part of a new focus on helping disabled people and those with long-term conditions into work. 
Work and pensions secretary Damian Green is today unveiling a Green Paper that is expected to contain proposals for sick pay to be made more flexible, allowing for phased returns to work for long-term absentees where they would be paid a proportion of the statutory rate for working restricted hours. 
Currently, employees can claim £88.45 a week in statutory sick pay for up to 28 weeks, but lose this entitlement once they return to work even if they are only working part-time hours while they recover. 
There will also be a new consultation on how fitness-to-work tests are carried out, with health professionals other than doctors potentially allowed to issue ‘fit notes’ – evidence of the advice employees have been given about their fitness to work. 
More broadly, the review aims to replace the current Work Capability Assessments regime, which means disabled people or those with long-term conditions would be placed into two groups based on their ability to work. Those with long-term conditions would no longer need to be continually reassessed, and disabled people who do not work would be able to keep their benefits while they received help through job centres. 
The paper is also likely to consider the Fit for Work programme, under which employees who have been absent from work for four weeks or more can be referred by GPs for targeted interventions. The scheme’s effectiveness has been in the spotlight recently as it passed its first anniversary. 
“A good job leads to good health and wellbeing,” said Green, who claimed reforms of the current system could help 1.5 million disabled people into work. “When things need improving, like the Work Capability Assessment and fit notes, we mustn’t shy away from big decisions. We must be bold in our ambition to help disabled people and those with health conditions. 
“This Green Paper marks the start of our action to confront the attitudes, prejudices and misunderstandings that, after many years, have become ingrained within the welfare state, within the minds of employers and across wider society.” 
But shadow work and pensions secretary Debbie Abrahams said the disability employment gap had increased under the current government, which has been criticised for the way assessments of disabled benefits claimants have been administered. 
“For Damian Green to claim that this Tory government is confronting the negative ‘attitudes and prejudices’ that it has spent six years encouraging is ridiculous,” she said. 
“It is an insult to the hundreds of thousands of disabled people who have been on the receiving end of their callous social security regime.” 
The plans also include voluntary work experience placements for young people with “limited capability for work”, to help them gain confidence and skills in real workplaces. 
Duncan Selbie, chief executive of Public Health England, said: “Our health, wellbeing and happiness are inextricably linked to work. People in work generally have better health. So it makes perfect sense for the government to do all it can to support employers to close the gap around employment, disability and illness, and to enable people to work when they can.” 
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