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Addressing the Forum for Health & Wellbeing at Work

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham recently addressed the AMBS National Forum for Health and Wellbeing at Work. Here he talks about how the Forum is helping support his Good Employment Charter for the city.

If you strip away why Britain feels such a divided society, epitomised by the Brexit vote, then for me it goes much deeper than particular concerns about Europe or immigration.

Instead, I actually think people’s lives have been diverging for quite some time and there is a sense of people living very different lives across the UK, a divergence that was only further accelerated by the global recession a decade ago.

In the top half of organisations you have a lot of people who are quite comfortable and insulated from the most difficult changes. But within the bottom half you have people who feel a real pressure on their wages, a real chipping away at their sense of life and job security.

At the same time I believe British business has always taken far too much of a short-term approach to the bottom line, and the result is that we have left some citizens feeling alienated, disengaged, and with a general sense of unfairness about the way things are done.

Insecure work and housing

The two biggest building blocks of good health are good work and good housing. Indeed if you are to get to the heart of why some people don’t have good health and wellbeing, then to me it comes down to a toxic mix of insecure housing and insecure work.

For instance if you look at the housing market in the 1970s then tens of thousands of people across Manchester’s boroughs would have lived in council or social housing. Instead today people are increasingly living in private rented accommodation so they don’t have the same security of tenure. In fact the single biggest cause of homelessness in Greater Manchester is eviction from private rented accommodation thanks, in large part, to the ‘no fault’ eviction procedure which allows landlords to evict people in two months.

In terms of insecure work we increasingly see casual or zero hours work, which in turn creates insecure housing because people don’t have that certainty of paying the rent. It explains why growing numbers of people simply live week to week, month to month, and it doesn’t create any sense of security and wellbeing.

Mental health

Ten years ago, when I was Secretary of State for Health, health and wellbeing had a very physical health focus. Yes that is still important today, but let’s be honest, when we are talking about health and wellbeing today then what we are really talking about is a mental health conversation. The whole work and health agenda is a mental health conversation. We need to start there and then build solutions.

That’s precisely why - working with partners including the CIPD, Manchester Chamber of Commerce, and trade unions - we will soon be launching our Good Employment Charter for Greater Manchester which covers seven domains: secure work; flexible work; a real living wage; workplace engagement and voice; excellent recruitment practice; excellent people management; and a productive and healthy workplace.

Once launched we will then look to accredit organisations and companies as members of the Charter, and will also look to link it with public procurement so that companies bidding for public contracts across the city will get weighting if they are classed as a good employer.

Business input

One thing we have not done yet is fully evaluate the business case for the Charter and that’s where we will be turning to the National Forum at Alliance MBS for help.

We know that the business case for the Charter is overwhelming. For instance, I remember being at a Living Wage conference in 2018 and sat in a room full of businesses that weren’t living wage employers listening to those that were. One company that did pay the living wage went on stage and told the audience how the living wage had saved it money, and I’ll never forget the astonished reaction around the room.

That reaction came about because when companies think about the broader health and wellbeing agenda they often think burden, cost, bureaucracy. But as this company went on to explain, it had managed to save on recruitment because people were staying with the business much longer, had cut sickness massively, increased productivity, and been better at retaining customers. That is the message we have got to get through.

Devolution has a key role to play in getting that message through too. As a former health secretary I could have a vision for health services, but in my current role I can have a vision for people’s health because you can link health back to work, to housing, to community, and to family.

Ultimately that is how you build health, from the bottom up, and we need to show that real and better change can only come this way.

Watch Andy Burnham addressing the National Forum for Health and Wellbeing at Work in the video below: