In two months time the traditional doctor’s note excusing you from work will start to cease being valid if you are still sick after four weeks.
Just before Parliament went into the summer recess welfare reform minister, Lord Freud, announced that a US multinational company,Maximus, which also operates in Canada and Saudi Arabia will take over running the new Health and Work Service for England and Wales.
My report in this week’s Tribune reveals that up to one million people will be affected by the change which appears to be aimed to save the government money.
Maximus runs call centres, occupational health programmes, child support and job seekers programmes abroad and in the United Kingdom.
The programme is to be rolled out from November to next May aims to save up to £165 million a year by getting people back to work faster as part of Lord Freud’s welfare reforms.
The Scottish government has declined to contract out the work to the private firm and will keep the assessment programme as part of the public service.
More worryingly it appears that the private company which will make the decision will not see anyone – and create a Return to Work programme via a call centre telephone interview and a decision by email.
The package is supposed to be agreed between the sick person and the private company and sent to both the individual and their employer. Failure to co-operate with the service will mean the individual will lose their sick pay.
Lord Freud is quoted in a DWP press release emphasising how the scheme will improve economic productivity and get people back to work faster.
He says:”Providing support where it’s needed most will help to reduce the length of time employees take off sick which, in turn, will cut sick pay costs, improve economic output and reduce the chances of people falling out of work and having to claim benefits. “
After the cruel and nasty system that forced disabled people to find work or lose benefits run by the French company, ATOS, I have a suspicion that this new system could push the sick back to work before they are ready.
While ATOS did this by personal interviews and tests, Maximus look like putting the sick back to work without examining them to see they are fit and well. No doubt the government will see it as another way to tackle the workshy. But even employers’ advisers are sceptical about this. This new development needs watching.