Magazine article Public Finance

Revenue Staff Top Soaring Sick Leave Statistics

Magazine article Public Finance

Revenue Staff Top Soaring Sick Leave Statistics

Article excerpt

Sickness absence rates across the civil service rose last year, despite a blizzard of Whitehall initiatives to tackle the problem, the Cabinet Office has revealed.

Whitehall staff took an average of 9.8 days off sick in 2005, compared with 9.1 days in 2004. The Cabinet Office said the rise could be attributed 'primarily' to a new method of calculating sickness absence annually, but admitted that the 12-month change represented a 'notable increase'.

In total, Whitehall lost 5.1 million working days in 2005, compared with 4.8 million in 2004.

The figures, published on September 18, compare unfavourably with reported absences in the private sector - estimated by the CBI at six days per employee per year. Senior CBI officials have attributed the difference to the relatively relaxed attitude of public employers towards most absences.

But that comes at a cost. The latest Cabinet Office figures show that sickness absence cost the civil service £450m in 2005, a rise of £50m on the previous year.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said that while the department was 'disappointed' by the figures, 'initiatives have been undertaken since 2005 that will help departments to tackle unnecessary absences'.

Former Cabinet secretary Sir Andrew Turnbull introduced a new regime for reducing Whitehall absences and departments have also launched their own and joint initiatives with trade unions - but the Cabinet Office said that the effects of some new systems had yet to be felt. A ministerial taskforce has also made recommendations to ease problems. …

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