Worrying as it is, the Coronavirus story has not been the only health topic of note in the national media recently.
Last week the highly respected scientist Sir Michael Marmot – and the Institute of Health Equity (IoHE) – published a really important document entitled “Health Equity in England”. This publication is the 10 year review of Sir Michael’s original “Fair Society, Healthy Lives” report of 2010. The latest report looks at the progress made over the last decade, and it’s fair to say that the findings are far from encouraging for the nation.
So what were the headline messages?
Writing on his Blog for The Health Foundation in 2019 Sir Michael said;
“Since the end of the First World War, life expectancy in England and Wales increased about 1 year every 4 years – about 23 years in 90 years. In 2010 that welcome improvement began to slow dramatically. By 2017 it had ground to a halt in England and life expectancy had actually declined in Scotland, in Wales and among men in Northern Ireland.”
He then went on to point out that this is not the natural order of things. Other European countries are not experiencing the same trends, and indeed some continue to get healthier and live longer. Yet the UK has not kept pace, and the latest report even highlights that mortality rates for some people of working age (those aged between 45 – 49) have actually increased in recent years.
The review also looked at other issues which may well be contributing factors to stalling life expectancy. It found that UK pay has stagnated at or below 2008 levels, working poverty is on the rise, child poverty too, and the amount of time that people spend in poor health has also risen.
Many of these issues seem to be felt disproportionately by the poorest in society. But, importantly, other groups are feeling the impact too. In his 2019 article Sir Michael wrote;
“We need to look at the whole gradient. Of all the potential years of life lost due to inequality, half (49%) come from the most deprived fifth of the population. Yet a quarter (25%) of the years of life lost come from people in middle socioeconomic deciles”
But is this an employer problem?
Which is all very interesting, but what relevance does this really have for employers?
It’s a fair challenge. After all the key recommendations of the original review were clearly intended to be implemented and/or facilitated by government rather than employers. For those not familiar with those recommendations they are listed below:
- Give every child the best start in life
- Enable all children, young people and adults to maximise their capabilities and have control over their lives
- Create fair employment and good work for all
- Ensure a healthy standard of living for all
- Create and develop healthy and sustainable places and communities
- Strengthen the role and impact of ill health prevention
Yet it is not just a problem for government. To improve a nation’s overall life-expectancy, health, and wellbeing, requires nothing short of combined action by all the stakeholders in the story. And that most certainly includes employers large and small across the nation.
So it is clearly the case that employers can influence all the above points to some extent through their remuneration, wellbeing, and employee benefits offerings. Of course such targeting will only directly benefit each employer’s workers (and their families), but ultimately this will all contribute towards the overall national figures too.
Many employers have done their bit already
It should of course be noted that over the last 10 years lots of employers have been doing just that.
Despite the years of austerity following the financial crisis, many employers resisted the temptation to cease offering their existing Employee Benefits, and some have actually gone further by extending their offering to include much greater levels of support. In particular more help has been offered in the areas of mental health, financial wellbeing, and remote access to qualified doctors in the last decade. This is a great sign, and shows that employers often already recognise the need to really look after their workers.
But many more employers could or should be thinking about doing more in this area.
What’s in it for the employer?
The bottom line is that a physically and fiscally healthy workforce is more likely to be productive than those employees who are struggling with mental or physical health issues, or serious financial problems.
It’s also worth remembering that if your workers are well looked after and content, then they are perhaps much less likely to take their skills elsewhere for what is often only a relatively modest pay rise.
Both of these outcomes are important for employers at any time. But right now – as the UK business world faces the dual uncertainties of Brexit and the Coronavirus outbreak – they take on a new importance that no organisation should really overlook.
So what now?
The 10th anniversary of the Marmot Review must act as a useful reminder that the nation should not take a continued improvement in its health and wellbeing for granted. Indeed it might be construed that if corrective action remains untaken, then these measures might actually move into reverse for the first time in more than 100 years.
There are many stakeholders that can help avoid this outcome, and employers are certainly one grouping that has a really important role to play. And in taking such actions employers will ultimately benefit their reputation and bottom-line every bit as much as it helps the health and well-being of the UK’s national population.