Running clubs to be recommended to long-term sick under government plans

A person running in Hyde Park, in London.
Credit: PA

Running and gardening clubs will be recommended to those on long-term sickness leave in a bid to get people back to work.

Doctors, employers, job centres, social workers and charities will be encouraged to suggest therapy and life coaching under new government plans to create a national occupational health service and reduce the number of people whom GPs sign off from work.

Community activities such as singing, cooking or gardening clubs will also be offered through NHS "social prescribing" initiatives.

Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride and Health Secretary Victoria Atkins said the scheme is not a "one size fits all" but they hope it will work with other services to help people stay in employment.

They told The Times: "We know the longer someone spends out of work, the harder it becomes for them to find a job.

They added: "We also know that one in five of those claiming the highest level of health benefits want to work and feel they could do so with the right support."

Currently, there are 2.2 million people claiming Universal Credit with no work requirements.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has previously committed to tackling the growing numbers of those too ill to work.

The pilots will see 15 areas test a service known as WorkWell, which involves work coaches, physiotherapy and mental health treatment.

Following the trials, the government hopes to expand the scheme nationally, but key elements of it will not take effect until 2025.

Ms Atkins and Mr Stride said: "Where someone could fall out of work and on to long-term sickness benefits, WorkWell is designed to swoop in and provide the support that people need to stay in work, or return as soon as possible."

Labour's shadow employment minister Alison McGovern told the newspaper the scheme is "all too little and it's far too late".

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