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The government's new Back to Work Plan (announced on 16 November) was given funding in the Chancellor of the Exchequer's Autumn Statement on 22 November. 

The Back to Work Plan is a package of employment support measures, including changes to benefits, which is intended to assist over a million people (including those with long-term health conditions or disabilities and the long-term unemployed) to start and stay in work. There are currently a record 2.6 million people who are economically inactive due to long-term health conditions or disability. This is almost half a million more than prior to the pandemic.

Fit notes

The government has committed to reforming the fit note process so that increased numbers of people can return to work after a period of ill health. There will be a consultation in 2024 on wider reforms to fit notes, but beforehand there are going to be trials in a small number of Integrated Care Boards, which will offer better triage, signposting and support to those who have received a fit note for a prolonged period of time. This trial is intended to inform the launch of a consultation on reforms to the fit note process, with the aim of integrating it better with easy and rapid work and health support.

Occupational Health

The government will establish an expert group to advise on a new voluntary Occupational Health (OH) framework which will set out the minimum level of OH intervention needed to improve employee health at work. It will also work with employers and business representatives to promote best practice in relation to employee ill health and disabilities.

Meanwhile the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has published the response to the Occupational Health: Working Better consultation which was issued on 20 July. The consultation focused on the role of the government, employers and OH providers in improving productivity and preventing ill-health related unemployment. The response confirms that the following actions will be taken forward by the government:

  • The development of a voluntary minimum framework for OH provisions will be supported. This will set out the minimum level of OH intervention that employers could adopt to help improve employee health at work.
  • New voluntary national workplace health and disability standards will be explored to provide best practice guidance for employers to support people with health conditions and disabilities to start, stay and succeed in work.
  • A long-term strategic OH workplace approach will be developed to build a multi-disciplinary work and health workforce.

The government does not propose to make OH provision mandatory for employers.

Mental health

The government is increasing funding for Individual Placement and Support for Severe Mental Illness. This is the employment support service within community mental health teams which assists those with mental health issues with starting and staying in employment.

Mandatory work placements

Time-limited mandatory work placements will be introduced for certain individuals in England and Wales who are still unemployed after receiving 18 months of specialised employment support.