Government demands local authorities cut sickness levels

Social services departments are to come under pressure to cut
sickness absence rates with a proposed performance indicator
designed to measure efficiency savings, writes Craig

Sickness absence rates is one of 20 draft indicators proposed to
help local authorities meet the 2.5 per cent efficiency savings
target that was set in the Government’s recent spending

Other indicators proposed by the Office of the Deputy Prime
Minister include the unit costs of residential care and home care
for older people and the average weekly cost of looking after a
child in a children’s home.

Recent surveys by the Employers Organisation for Local
Government show that sickness rates in social services departments
were 16.1 days per employee per year in 2002, compared with a
council-wide average of 10.7 days per employee in 2002/3.

Departments have tried a wide range of measures to bring
sickness levels down, ranging from the punitive – not paying
for the first three days sick leave – to the more supportive,
like getting staff to talk to a nurse when they phone in sick.

Tony Hunter, ADSS president and social services director at
Liverpool City Council, said: “We all recognise that for
front line staff work can be very pressured and lonely and for some
of our workforce lifting and handling can be a cause.”

“But equally there’s no doubt that sickness levels
in social services are too large. The challenge for us is working
out what levels of sickness are able to be tackled and what’s
inherent to the job.”

Hunter said it was important to strike the right balance between
cutting sickness rates and supporting staff.

“In good councils we are looking at underlying trends and causes
like back pain. The pressure on organisations to perform is
bringing all these issues very much to the fore”, he

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