Poor health a major cause of low productivity, parliamentary report finds

14 Feb 2020 By Francis Churchill

Experts urge businesses to provide more support and call for public metrics so investors can avoid firms that negatively impact staff wellbeing

Poor health is a major cause of low productivity, a parliamentary report has said, calling for employers to do more to tackle poor employee wellbeing.

The analysis of NHS data, by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Longevity, said high levels of chronic illness were contributing to unemployment in some regions, particularly in the north of England.

It said reducing the number of working age people with long-term health problems by 10 per cent could increase economic activity by three percentage points. It also said closing the health gap between the north and south of the UK would add £13.2bn to the economy.

The report found people were living with poor health for longer than previously estimated, revealing women were on average diagnosed with a long-term health problem at the age of 55, nine years earlier than previously thought.

Meanwhile, men can expect good health until the age of 56, seven years earlier than previously estimated. This dropped to 47 and 49 respectively in poorer areas of the country.

Damian Green, Conservative MP and chair of the APPG for Longevity, said it was “shocking” how many individuals fall ill with avoidable conditions. “Premature avoidable ill-health is rampant, and it is bad for individuals, our society and our economy,” he said.

The report called on businesses to do more to support the health of workers. “As employers, they directly influence people’s income, work-life balance, mental health and whether people can [stay] in work,” the report stated.

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“There will be a need both to celebrate good achievements and for stronger challenges to businesses and sectors that damage health – with metrics to inform the public so that investors can avoid investing in them, as is happening with fossil fuels,” it said.

Speaking at the launch of the report, Matt Hancock, secretary of state for health and social care, said: “One of the biggest health impacts a place can have is whether it supports good local jobs.

“By good jobs I mean jobs that are purposeful and rewarding, not just well paid. Where employers invest in things like mental health or musculoskeletal support as part and parcel of being a good employer.”

Paul Edwards, director of clinical services at Dementia UK, called the report a “welcome step in the right direction”.

“It’s high time that the government and all parts of society grab the nettle on this issue, building a system replete with jobs with supportive work environments as well as the right funding models to ensure no family with dementia gets left behind,” Edwards said.

The report coincided with separate research that revealed age was the biggest barrier to job opportunities in the UK. A recent poll of 2,000 UK workers by LinkedIn found almost a quarter (23 per cent) believed their age was a barrier in the job market.

This compared to 7 per cent who thought their level of educational attainment prevented them from getting ahead. Just 5 per cent thought gender was a barrier, and 4 per cent cited ethnicity.

“Older workers aren’t just the workforce of the future, they’re the workforce of the present – so employers who don’t adjust to the ageing workforce are likely to face skill shortages,” said Emily Andrews, senior evidence manager at the Centre for Ageing Better.

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