There's a myth that British workers are somehow lazier than others and take time off and throw a ‘sickie' at the drop of a hat. Now there is nothing wrong with getting some time back from the grasping bosses, but a recent report called ‘Sicknote Britain?' has found that British workers are less likely to take short term time off sick than in any European country except Denmark. Furthermore, only Austria, Germany and Ireland lose less working time due to long term absence; public sector employees are off sick less than private sector workers; and the number of people on Incapacity Benefit is on the decrease.

On the contrary, the real problem is the high number of workers (75 per cent) who confess to struggling into work when they are actually too ill. Very admirable maybe, except that these workers often come in with an infectious illness and simply spread their misery around. Also, working when sick can actually lead to long-term sickness absence.

The report takes a pop at commentators who suggest that many people who are off work with stress are not really that ill. It notes that the Health and Safety Executive estimates that work-related stress costs employers £353 million and society £3.7 billion, and the symptoms suffered by stressed-out employees are serious, including mental health and chronic physical health problems.

This comes at a time when the government is trying to force those on Incapacity Benefit back into paid employment, and the report finds that the number of people actually getting Incapacity Benefit is falling, not rising as is assumed by the press and the media.

Far from having an easy life on IB, claimants receive just £84.28 a week, and to get it, they have to pass a test showing that they are incapable of work and be paid up with sufficient National Insurance contributions. This test is getting harder for those with stress-related illnesses because, as soon as the signs of recovery are seen, they are forced back prematurely into work, only to fall ill again a few months later.

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