HealthandsafteyNapo Family Court members have had experience of wellbeing projects promoted by their employer, Cafcass, for several years now, and on the whole it would be fair to say this is popular with our members. The Cafcass health wellbeing benefits are provided through Medicash which gives staff access to a range of treatments, including dental and optical care, annual health screenings, therapies such as sports massage, osteopathy and physiotherapy, a range of retail discounts and more. The plan includes cover for children and can also be upgraded to include cover for partners. Cafcass also have an Employee Assistance Programme, Planning for Retirement, Debt management, Mindfulness, Wellbeing seminars. Cafcass have been invited by the Napo Family Court Section to promote their wellbeing programme at the Napo Family Court Conference – as they did last year.

Cafcass won Employee Benefits Awards 2014 for their wellbeing programme, and received favourable national media coverage. So Napo promote the wellbeing programme, it is popular with Napo members and has won awards – what is the problem?

In late 2015 Nicki Kenny, Napo Family Court section co-chair and Napo health and safety representative wrote:

The Health and Wellbeing strategy was developed to reduce sickness absence to “around 6 days” per year for social work grades and reduce stress related absence to 2000 days. I am not sure whether the 2000 days has been achieved but at HSSG in July 2015, we saw data that showed social worker absence is 6.5 days, the lowest ever.

In my view it is not due to the benefit of the Health and Wellbeing Strategy (although I have no doubt this has perhaps assisted staff to stay in work longer before they go off sick) but is due to the aggressive way in which staff are pushed through the absence management procedure. We have had 2 cases recently that went to stage 3 and the staff were not dismissed but returned to work and should have been allowed the time to get well rather than have the stress of being pressured to return before they were well.

Napo is also concerned that:

  • The Health & Wellbeing Strategy was taken out of the health and safety consultation remit and instead developed by Human Resources.
  • In 2015 Cafcass used two experts, trained sports physiotherapists, to advise staff on muscular skeletal problems – using group sessions and one to one sessions in offices, despite the fact that many Family Court Section members work from home. These specialists will also cover home conditions but Napo TU reps are concerned that with increasing working from home or in cars between appointments, staff will not benefit.
  • Amongst members in the Family Court Section, stress anxiety and depression continues to be by far the biggest reason for sickness absence despite the health and wellbeing plan. Attention in Cafcass in turning now to measuring and strengthening resilience. Members in the Family Court Section (FCS) report feeling pressured to declare whether their stress is work or non-work related to fit new recording categories of mental health work related and mental health non-work related. Currently two thirds of absences for mental health are recorded as non-work-related. Members do not feel supported to report work related stress direct to their line manager although the introduction of one day stress interventions with brief assessments conducted by telephone have brought positive outcomes for some. In many areas work is allocated without any discussion. It immediately becomes the responsibility of the member who is responsible for assessing safeguarding factors and meeting various deadlines under the recording policy. Members have reported being allocated new work as they go on leave and whilst on leave.


NOMS Wellbeing Strategy 2015–2020 was originally rolled out in prisons and more recently work has begun in the NPS. Sarah Friday, National Official has recently been invited to attend the NOMS Attendance Project Meetings on behalf of Napo. NOMS strategy is twofold:


NOMS want to reduce staff absence, they say they don’t want to be punitive, but instead are looking at number of workday’s lost and what works well to bring down levels of sickness/absence.


The NOMS planning and analysis group promotes organisation of wellbeing days – these are organised by prison or NPS clusters. The last edition of NQ1 reported that NPS SE&E had organised a healthy working/healthy living event. The event was welcomed and the fact that trade unions were given the opportunity to talk to staff about the benefits of TU membership. But it was a disappointment that there was little focus on how work can impact negatively on health – and instead the focus was on how employees can improve their health to become more resilient.

NOMS are also promoting the establishment of wellbeing committees, and welcome union safety reps on these

committees. However, with cuts to facility time surely it would be a better option if this work was done through the safety committees. This would save time and mean that reps could exercise their consultative legal rights through the safety reps and safety committee regulations.

Employers wellbeing strategy policies

The Cafcass wellbeing strategy 2014–2016 mission states:

Our mission is to foster an organisation culture of physical and emotional health, supporting our staff to achieve high attendance. The vision for their wellbeing strategy is that their staff: Will lead physically and emotionally happy and healthy lives. By providing resource’s which support our staff to look after their own health, taking account of their individual circumstances….

NOMS Wellbeing Strategy 2015–2020

In the foreword it stated that:

We all experience pressure, and this can be shaped by many factors – things such as lifestyle choices, work and family. We want to create an organisation that talks about the health and wellbeing of the workforce and does not shy away from difficult conversations about fitness, diet and relaxation


The focus is on individual health and improving this to benefit the employer. Rather than looking at work organisation and how addressing issues around this will improve service provision.

The TUC recently published ‘Work and well-being, a trade union resource’ https://www.tuc.org.uk/workplace-issues/work-and-well-being-trade-union-resource. The workplace can, like any other environment, be a useful place to encourage people to make healthy choices, but it must be done in a non-judgemental way ‘and that unions should resist attempts by employers to introduce moral elements to health by criticising employee health lifestyles’.

The wellbeing strategies of Cafcass and NOMS make very little mention of trade union involvement (indeed just one mention in each doc). This is the advantage for the employer of taking wellbeing programmes away from the health and safety trade union consultation structure – where safety reps have legal rights. Employers get round this by saying that the law applies to health and safety and that wellbeing is a different issue because it is not about protecting workers’ health and or safety, it is about promoting health and wellbeing.


Recently the Cafcass focus has been around resilience. Defined by the CIPD (the professional body for HR and people development) as a:

sense of adaption, recovery and the ability to ‘bounce back’ despite adversity or change.


The TUC explain that an industry is developing to promote this and write that the trade union focus must be on how you change the workplace to remove unreasonable stress and demand.

It would seem that there is a still a long way to go to achieve this. A recent Napo stress survey of our members working for Sodexo has shown that excessive workloads are causing work related stress. 85% of respondents indicated that their workload had increased since September 2015, nearly 95% of respondents indicated workload was causing them stress, and just over 80% of respondents indicated they would leave if they could, or are actively looking to leave the CRC.

There needs to be far more of a focus on the relationship between work and health.

The development of these strategies and the blocking of TU involvement hasn’t happened by chance. There is a whole range of theoretical research on the subject. As mentioned in the previous article, it is about cutting corners, putting responsibility on the employee to be resilient rather than the employer changing their working practices to make the work environment better for staff.

Trade unions need to claim the wellbeing agenda.

Hugh Robertson made a very powerful point when he said that the rate of pay is the main determinate of health – so if employers really want to improve health they should improve pay!

Sarah Friday
National Official (Health and Safety)


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