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In perspective - Jill Barker argues that welfare spending can be cut by reducing sickness absence

Welfare spending can be cut by reducing sickness absence and through early intervention physiotherapy, not by punishing those in need, argues Jill Barker.

The CSP shares the TUC’s deep concerns about the government’s welfare reforms, along with other TUC affiliates, many charities and individuals.

I know that CSP members are worried that some of the most vulnerable people in society are being targeted in the name of meeting the government’s troubled deficit reduction plan. It’s something we’ve raised at our annual representative conference.

The mark of a civilised and compassionate society is how we look after people who are unemployed or suffer accidents or illness, or otherwise not in a position to help themselves. Cutting or withdrawing benefits upon which people depend due to no fault of their own will likely only add to the kind of health problems that see people referred to physiotherapy clinics. By potentially making transport unaffordable, they could even hinder a patient’s attendance at appointments. Instead, we need a society that helps people back on their feet – something many CSP members do every day.

As part of efforts to defend a society based on fairness and opportunity for all, the TUC has launched the saving our safety net campaign. If you want to know more about it and understand the issues around it and how the reforms are hurting real people, please take a look at the enclosed TUC publication in this issue of Frontline.

I’m not arguing that there aren’t savings to be made on the welfare bill. But why don’t we listen to the people on the ground and make the savings by tackling the root causes of ill-health, where they are most effective?

Just under £5 billion is spent on incapacity benefit alone. Overall, workplace sickness absence costs the UK an estimated £14 billion. Musculoskeletal disorders, and stress, depression or anxiety are consistently the two main causes of working days being lost to sickness.

Most members know through their own professional practice, that early intervention services, such as self-referral to physiotherapy, help keep people in work, and so reduce spending on ill-health and benefits. And physios can also help people who are already off sick by providing access to community services which can help with long-term conditions.  

We can help to reduce health and social care costs by keeping people living as independently as possible. We are talking about hundreds of millions of pounds in savings, perhaps more.

As CSP members we play a key role in taking a positive, not punitive, approach to ill health, one centred on improving people’s lives and putting the patient at the heart of all care.

Support the TUC campaign by signing the petition and promote the benefits our profession can bring to society. The CSP’s Physiotherapy Works campaign will help you do this. Remember that both actions are, in fact, two sides of the same coin.

The TUC leaflet saving our safety net, sent with Frontline, contains material on how physiotherapy can prevent long-term sickness.

Jill Barker chairs the CSP’s industrial relations committee and is a steward

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