Group Risk – making the Welfare Reform agenda work for business

Steve Bridger, head of group risk at Aviva
Steve Bridger, head of group risk at Aviva

The Government’s radical welfare reform agenda has huge potential to improve the working life for UK employees. The ability to claw back money lost to absence is just one of the many potential benefits – but navigating its many initiatives is complicated, confusing and potentially costly. In this context, Group Risk benefits providers have never been more relevant to employers.

Making Group Risk fit for purpose in 2011 The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) proposal to overhaul the benefits system is well underway. The proposal is broadly welcomed as it could help reduce the impact of long term sick leave on UK businesses – which lose an average of 172 million working days each year. But it’s important to take on board the fact that the proposed Universal Credit, as well as the review of all those currently on Incapacity Benefit, and the effective means testing of Employment and Support Allowance after one year, could place far greater responsibility on employers.

With the introduction of the fit note increasing the onus on employers to accommodate the return to work of staff, employers may need to consider making changes to the workplace, in order that returning employees can be accepted back in the business. This could be a costly and complicated process, one which businesses will need support in making work for them. So being able to provide rehabilitation services and encouraging early intervention has never been more important.

Employers will also need to consider how to build in prevention measures within the business. By encouraging employees to make the healthier choices the government is promoting, employers could improve staff engagement by demonstrating an interest in their wellbeing.

Healthy Lives, Healthy People The recommendations in the White Paper highlight the crucial role that employers can play to improve health outcomes in areas from obesity and to smoking, to substance misuse and physical activity. It also suggests that employers can achieve this through “establishing a strong cultural lead, strengthening management training in recognising and responding to the health needs of the workforce, and working more closely with others, particularly occupational health and primary care.”

Aviva’s “Health of the Workplace 2” report found that two thirds (64%) of businesses believe that employee wellbeing also has a direct impact on the productivity levels of their workforce. These results confirm our view that there is sufficient evidence to demonstrate to employers that investment in workplace health will improve the health of their employees. In addition, we believe that Group Risk combined with Group PMI can provide a robust framework for managing absence and encouraging wellbeing.

Up for debate The Government has recently publicised its decision to grant an exemption for Group Risk insured benefits in relation to the Default Retirement Age (DRA). As a result of the exemption, employers will continue to be allowed to cap these benefits, initially to employees aged 65 and above which will rise in line with the State Pension Age.

This decision has meant that we are able to continue to support its welfare reform initiatives. And for employers it means we still offer peace of mind that they can financially support their staff long-term through the provision of comprehensive Group Risk benefits. Our opinion is that the Government’s recognition of the value and importance of Group Risk will create opportunities to expand this market even further.

A total solution approach tailored around business needs There are a broad range of solutions and interventions – from absence management and health promotion to improving the quality of work – but it’s important to identify what works for different types of employers. By including tailored Group Risk benefits in the core benefits package, employers can mitigate the risks and associated costs of long term employee absence and provide a highly valued benefit for employees.

We believe that the future of Group Risk lies in offering a total solution to businesses and their needs. Aviva’s approach means we tailor and personalise menus of solutions around business performance needs. It starts with an in depth assessment of the business, its risks and requirements. We then put together a whole range of service delivery options to manage and mitigate those risks.

Aviva’s aim is to continually help businesses improve the workplace experience for employers and employees, driving efficiency, wellbeing and effectiveness. For more information on Aviva’s Group Risk products visit www.letstalkgrouprisk.com