Sick day count increases at Cabinet Office
New data shows dip in proportion of staff who went 12 months without taking time off because of ill health
Just-published transparency data has shown an increase in the number of work days lost through ill health at the Cabinet Office.
The latest quarterly statistics show a 12% increase in the total number days lost in the year to September 2017, compared with the same period the year before. However the figures – 10,274 compared with 11,496 – cover a period of change at the department when the total number of staff employed by the department for all or part of the 12-month periods rose from 3,935 to 5,905.
Even so, 19% of Cabinet Office staff took at least some sick leave in the 2017 period, compared with 18% the year before, and the overall average-work-days-lost (AWDL) metric rose from 3.2 per person in the year to September 2016 to 3.3 in the period that ended last year.
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In London, where the bulk of the Cabinet Office’s staff are based, the AWDL for 2017 was 2.4, up from 2.1 the previous year.
The figure for the north-west was 6.0 in 2016, but rose to 7.9 in 2017; the figures also noted that total staff employed by the Cabinet Office in the north-west in the 2016 period had been 267, rising to 329 in 2017.
In Wales, the Cabinet Office’s AWDL figure was 14.9 in 2016, but dipped to 7.6 in 2017, however the proportion of staff who took sick leave decreased by a smaller figure, dropping from 64% to 63% over the two periods.
Scotland recorded the Cabinet Office's highest AWDL rate for 2017, at 24.2. But the figure related to a very small number of staff and could not be compared with the previous year as "zero" employees were listed during that 12-month period.
By grade, Cabinet Office staff in Senior Civil Service roles were the least likely to take sick days in the year to September, with just 5% recording any kind of health-related absence, down from the 2016 figure of 7%.
Of Cabinet Office staff with an identified rank, senior executive officers were most likely to take sick days – with 37% taking sick leave of some kind during the year to September 2017, an increase on the previous year’s 33%.
Earlier this week, Civil Service World reported on a statistical update on pan-Whitehall work absences that was released in the form of a written answer to parliament from newly-appointed parliamentary secretary to the Cabinet Office Oliver Dowden.
Dowden reported that figures for the year to March 2017 revealed that 25.8% of sick days taken by civil servants were due to poor mental health, while 64.9% were the result of physical illness.
Earlier Cabinet Office statistics for the year to March 2017 indicated that civil servants took an average of seven day off sick every year.
The latest figures, which relate only to Cabinet Office staff, do not provide a breakdown of the type of illness staff were suffering from.
But they do suggest churn among staff. Although the department is one of the pillars of Whitehall undergoing a staffing renaissance, the absence figures themselves underscore that actual staffing levels did not increase by the 50% represented by the shift in "total staff employed in period" from 3,935 in 2016 to 5,905 in 2017.
The 2016 figures indicated that the headcount for the period was equivalent to 3,228.3 “total staff years”, while the 2017 figure was equivalent to 3,487.7 total staff years, suggesting the real terms headcount increase was 8%.
An Institute for Government analysis of civil service headcount in March last year pointed to an 8.5% increase in headcount at the Cabinet Office in the last three months of 2016, which it said could be explained by the inclusion of new recruits for the Department for Exiting the European Union going on the Cabinet Office’s books, under the methodology used by the Office for National Statistics.
A Cabinet Office spokesperson said the civil service-wide AWDL in relation to sick days had reduced from 9.0 in 2007 to 5.9.
"The Cabinet Office continues to report one of the lowest sickness rates among Whitehall departments," they said.
"We recognise that good workforce health and well-being is fundamental to delivering brilliant public services."
They added that the increase in staff numbers at the Cabinet Office was due to movement between departments and was not adding to overall civil service workforce numbers.
This story was updated at 18:20 on 19 January 2018 to include a response from the Cabinet Office
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