Sally Hall: The working solution to UK’s costly compensation system

PAYOUTS: TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady says people aren't claiming what they are entitled to.
PAYOUTS: TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady says people aren't claiming what they are entitled to.
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Lately, not a day seems to go by without being assailed by those annoying ‘No Win, No Fee’ adverts. I’d got used to hearing the familiar refrain: ‘Been in an accident that wasn’t your fault...?’

(It seems there can barely be a person in the land who hasn’t suffered whiplash due to a prang that ‘wasn’t their fault’.)

But recently the focus seems to have shifted to ‘workplace injuries’.

There’s ads on phone boxes, on the radio, and all over the place online.

In some ways, this emphasis on workplace injury goes against the cultural grain.

Doom-mongers have long warned that common sense is being unravelled by a nanny-state health and safety culture.

So powerful is this misconception, the Health and Safety Executive even displays the most absurd of these ‘health and safety gone mad’ myths on its website.

My favourite has to be the shocker about candyfloss on a stick being banned in case people trip and impale themselves. Or the one about kids being forced to wear goggles to play conkers. All made-up nonsense, of course.

But despite widespread claims that health and safety has ‘gone mad’, these days we’re more likely to hear people bemoan their employer’s lack of care for their wellbeing – especially if there’s a legal advisor in the wings egging them on.

Here’s the thing – I passionately believe in employers maintaining their duty of care and prioritising the wellbeing of their staff.

Apart from anything else, I help to coordinate the Leeds Mindful Employer Network, which supports organisations to take a positive attitude to mental health.

And I think it’s wrong that employees should lose out financially if they’re injured at work.

(Although according to the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it seems people may not be claiming enough of what they’re entitled to.

Last year, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady criticised the Prime Minister for creating a smokescreen to hide the true extent of workplace injury in the UK, saying: “The Government is trying to brainwash people into thinking the UK has a rife compensation culture. However, the facts tell a different story. Even those who are dying of work-related diseases have precious little chance of getting a pay-out.”)

Whatever your perspective on this issue, it’s hard to see how lining the pockets of ‘No Win, No Fee’ lawyers will do anybody any good.

People need to be looked after by their employers, and supported properly if they do get injured at work. But there has to be a better way than this.

Living in New Zealand, I experienced first-hand the benefits of the country’s Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) after breaking my ankle.

There is no compensation culture in New Zealand – zero – because everything is taken care of within ACC. All health care costs are covered – including supplementary expenses like taxis to the hospital, physiotherapy for rehabilitation, help with cleaning and getting your shopping done.

Wages continue to be paid at 70% for the entire duration of sickness absence, meaning no one should be financially disadvantaged by an accident (no matter where it happened or what caused it).

And if an accident is really catastrophic, ACC will work with people to re-train, look for a new job, or go back to the same employer with loads of adjustments (also coverered by – yes, you guessed it – ACC).

When someone is injured at work in England, they immediately face financial disadvantage. No wonder a pay-out sounds attractive.

But it costs us all a fortune.

Setting aside money for compensation payouts leached £17.5 billion from the NHS in 2013, or one-seventh of the whole NHS budget.

And it’s also ineffective.

The onus is on the injured employee to prove their employer is to blame, setting up a combative and adversarial approach from the outset. The system undermines trust and compromises good relations between employer and staff.

Under the ACC system, employers are part of the solution. If there was a similar system in this country, we’d never be subjected to a ‘No Win, No Fee’ advert again.

Predictive shopping could deliver a disaster

Anyone who’s seen the film Minority Report will know that trying to predict an outcome before it’s even happened can have pretty dire results.

Which is why Amazon’s plans to introduce ‘anticipatory shipping’ appear ripe for disaster to me.

The internet shopping giant has lodged a patent for this new approach and plans to use a range of consumer data to predict what shoppers intend to buy – then ship it in their direction before they’ve even hit the ‘search’ button. The company is prepared to write-off these packages as ‘promotional gifts’ in the unlikely event they get it wrong.

It all sounds very Big Brother-esque – not to mention potentially highly inaccurate.

Last week I did a one-off search for ‘balaclavas’ in preparation for an upcoming holiday to the Arctic Circle (where it is currently minus 38 degrees, or in other words, cold enough to freeze your nostril hair).

So if I find an unexpected package with a sawn-off shotgun and a book entitled ‘How to Rob a Bank’ when I get back, I’ll know Amazon’s predictive powers are already coming into play.

Sarah Champion MP

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