Press Release: The Hidden Cost of Austerity Measures – Stress at Work

Press Release: The Hidden Cost of Austerity Measures – Stress at Work

The message from the Government in recent years is that public spending has to be reduced. This has resulted in significant job cuts in the public sector particularly in local authorities education and health care services.

By the end of Quarter 4 in 2012 employment in the public sector had decreased for the thirteenth consecutive quarter. In 2011 alone over 250000 public sector jobs were cut. Indeed Dave Prentis General Secretary of the public sector union Unison commented that since the coalition came into power that a public sector job had been lost every 2 minutes and 18 seconds equating to a daily loss of 625 public sector jobs.

The ramifications of these cuts cannot be underestimated and whilst in the short to medium term the government will no doubt see savings to the overall wage bill for the public sector the long term cost to the government (and ultimately the tax payer) will be considerably higher due to the undisclosed ‘hidden costs’ which are not considered and certainly not reported.

Initially those staff who remain in employment in the public sector feel a sense of relief at having retained their job however this is quickly replaced by a sense of dread as the realisation sets in as to the effect of the cuts have had on the workload handled by the remaining staff.

Many employees in the public sector particularly in local authorities and education have to cover the workload previously handled by 2 3 or in some cases 4 people. Stress at Work is the second most common cause of absence from work in the UK. In public sector employment the problems are becoming uncontrollable due to the excessive workloads being placed on public sector workers as the government seek to force public sector workers to work longer hours to cover work previously handled by multiple employees.

Latest estimates from the Labour Force Survey shows that stress at work accounts for 40% of the total number of absences from work in the UK during 2011/12 and further goes on to state that stress at work is most prevalent in health professionals teaching education and caring personal services (in particular welfare and housing associate professional). The common theme of all of the above positions is that they are for the most part public sector positions where salaries are ultimately paid by the Government.

The difference between public and private sector work is the mentality behind recruitment. In the private sector businesses recruit according to the needs and resources of the business and there tends to be a direct correlation between the amount of income for the business and the staffing levels. In the public sector however the government in its’ various guises dictate the amount that they will spend on jobs with little or no consideration as to whether the number of jobs allowed is actually sufficient to cover the workload available.

The hidden cost of stress at work however is substantial. An individual who is on long term sick due to stress at work is a substantial drain on resources for the government in many forms. The most obvious being that employees on long term sick will receive full pay for several months whilst the government are not receiving the benefit of that employee’s service.

The next consideration is the cost to the NHS. Individuals suffering with work related stress require considerable health care primarily from their General Practitioner but in more serious cases input will be required from counsellors or psychologists. Such psychological care is often extensive and expensive and can involve specialised treatment such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy or EMDR.

A further consideration is the legal costs associated with people on long term sick. Often individuals on long term sick may pursue employment or civil claims for constructive dismissal discrimination personal injuries or harassment. Settlements of such claims can run into the tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of pounds when you take into account the legal costs of the solicitors and any damages.

Of course the individual should not be criticised for bringing such claims. Ultimately they should not have been put in a situation whereby there employment has caused them substantial and long lasting injuries which in many cases affect there ability to obtain future employment.

That brings me on to the final cost and that is people on long term sick due to depression or stress at work may be entitled to claim benefits due to their inability to work.

Perhaps worst of all is that often a domino affect can be felt as soon as one employee goes off with stress as this is often a catalyst for other employees to go off with stress in the same team or department.

Unfortunately these issues will only continue to get worse as George Osborne recently announced that a further 144000 public sector jobs are to be slashed. Indeed the Using Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts that the public sector will continue to shrink by 877000 in the next 5 years.

The total cost of this illness is not easily quantifiable but will ultimately dwarf the savings made on public sector salaries. The government appear entirely oblivious to these issues most probably because the long term costs cannot be put on a spreadsheet and can be hidden from the public’s eye.

Mr Richard Coulthard

Head of the Stress at Work Department – Michael Lewin Solicitors

The Yorkshire Post featured Richard’s comments in there article here

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