£6.2m funding boost for RCS to combat sickness absence

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A PIONEERING service that helps thousands of workers in North Wales combat work sickness absence has been given a £6.2 million boost.

Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport Ken Skates announced the EU and Welsh Government funding package to continue the In Work Support service provided by social enterprise RCS (Rhyl City Strategy) for another four years.

Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport Ken Skates with Ali Thomas, Operational Director of RCS, at RCS’s tenth anniversary event
Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport Ken Skates with Ali Thomas, Operational Director of RCS, at RCS’s tenth anniversary event

Mr Skates revealed the news at a special event to celebrate the 10th anniversary of RCS, which has its headquarters in Rhyl and a second office in Bangor.

The In Work Support service provides free and confidential support to people experiencing mild to moderate mental and physical health conditions, helping them to return to work after sickness absence. It also helps to improve the wellbeing and productivity of people whose health condition is limiting their ability to work effectively.

RCS delivers In Work Support in Anglesey, Conwy, Denbighshire and Gwynedd.

Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport Ken Skates speaking at RCS’s tenth anniversary event
Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport Ken Skates speaking at RCS’s tenth anniversary event

A further £3.2m was awarded to Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board (ABMU), which delivers the service in South Wales.

RCS Wales is a not-for profit social enterprise that helps people enter, sustain and progress in employment through improving health and wellbeing and employability. It was set up in 2008 and employs 17 people.

So far the In Work Support service has helped 3,400 employed or self-employed people to get back up and running following a period of ill health. Clients contact the service for support with common mental health or musculo-skeletal conditions that are having a negative impact on them at work, and putting them at risk of long-term absence. The support helps employees to return to work or to full productivity, thereby saving their employers the cost of further sick pay and cover, and gives clients the tools to manage their own wellbeing after they have left the service.

The service also provides training and support for small to medium sized businesses who are looking to reduce absenteeism and improve wellbeing in the workplace. Over 200 employers have already attended half-day workshops on a range of wellbeing topics. This element of the service will be strengthened through the new funding, allowing RCS to respond to employer requests for workplace training to help employees improve confidence, motivation and resilience.

Speaking as guest of honour at an event to mark RCS Wales’s decade of achievement at 1891 in Rhyl Pavilion, Mr Skates announced the total £9.4m funding to extend the In Work Support service to December 2022.

He said: “The cost to the Welsh economy of work-related ill health is estimated at £500 million per annum and we know that SME employers and their employees are disproportionately affected by sickness absence at work.

“That is one of the reasons why our new Economic Contract encourages businesses to promote good health in the workplace.

“To further support this ambition I am pleased to announce an additional £9.4m for the In Work Support Programme. I hope this will help to prevent people with common health conditions from falling out of work, and will also encourage businesses to build healthier work places.”

L-R - Steve Ray, a Director of RCS, Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport Ken Skates, RCS Operational Director Alison Thomas, RCS’s chair Professor John Parkinson, Head of the School of Psychology at Bangor University, Ceri Witchard, Regulator of Community Interest Companies.
L-R – Steve Ray, a Director of RCS, Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport Ken Skates, RCS Operational Director Alison Thomas, RCS’s chair Professor John Parkinson, Head of the School of Psychology at Bangor University, Ceri Witchard, Regulator of Community Interest Companies.

Welcoming the funding Ali Thomas, Operational Director of RCS said: “This is fantastic news.

“The In Work Support Service provides vital support to help keep employees in work in the face of individual health challenges, bringing enormous benefits both for employed and self-employed people and for the North Wales business community as a whole.

“We are delighted at the news of the service extension to December 2022, which will allow us to continue our work in supporting employees and business owners to create healthy, positive and productive workplaces.”

The In Work Support programme provides free and confidential work-focussed therapy and support for employed or self-employed people who are on, or at risk of sickness absence because of a mild to moderate health conditions ranging from back pain to stress or anxiety, to help them get back to work.

The service was launched across Conwy, Denbighshire, Gwynedd and Anglesey in 2015 and is aimed at employees of small to medium sized businesses, who may not otherwise have access to occupational health support.

Ms Thomas added: “This funding is vital in enabling us to continue our focus on reducing absenteeism, particularly in SMEs.

“It will also enable us to enhance our work with employers to improve attendance and wellbeing at work. We will be looking for employers to work with, to help shape targeted solutions to suit their workforces, and delivering courses in topics including resilience, motivation and sleep.

“We will also be looking for more staff, and therapists to work with across our network.”

Over the last 10 years, RCS Wales has levered over £10m in funding into North Wales and created £33m of social value, so for every pound of investment we have generated over three pounds’ worth of social value

Also among the speakers at RCS Wales’ 10th anniversary event were Ceri Witchard, Regulator of Community Interest Companies, RCS’s chair Professor John Parkinson, Head of the School of Psychology at Bangor University, and Steve Ray, a Director of RCS.

They heard how in addition to the In Work Support programme, RCS has through a variety of other projects helped 800 unemployed people to get jobs, created supported employment opportunities for 560 more, helped more than 48 new businesses set up, and provided work-related training opportunities for over 5,000 people in everything from catering, retail and administration to life-guarding.

In total the wellbeing value of RCS Wales’ work over the last decade has been calculated to be £33m in terms of improved wellbeing, health and happiness amongst the North Wales population.

The additional In Work Support funding is made of £2.2m of Welsh Government funding, and £7.2m of EU funding via the European Social Fund, under its West Wales and the Valleys programme.

Across Wales it will significantly expand the service to support up to 12,000 people, and 2,500 businesses to build a healthy workplace. The service will be widened to encompass more employees in rural areas and will look to increase engagement with small business networks and local health services.

The In Work Support Service fills a gap in the market that was identified by partner organisations including General Practitioner Committee Wales and the Federation of Small Businesses, and provides rapid work-focussed therapeutic interventions which help employees on or at risk of long-term sickness absence.

In supporting people with health problems to stay in work and in helping SME employers to manage the business impact of sickness absence, the programme aligns with the Welsh Government’s Prosperity for All plan as well as its Economic Action Plan, Employability Plan and its Health strategy – A Healthier Wales.

Health Secretary Vaughan Gething said: “This project brings together health professionals, skills and business support into a single service that helps people to remain in employment through direct workplace focused interventions.

It demonstrates the powerful potential of effective cross-government working to deliver positive action for vulnerable people in a joined-up and efficient way.”