UK election manifestos ‘largely silent’ on importance of wellbeing to economic growth: British Safety Council chairman

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The UK’s main political parties missed a golden opportunity to put people’s health, safety and wellbeing at the heart of economic growth when they published their pre-election manifestos this week, British Safety Council’s chairman has said.

This lack of focus on the wellbeing of the country’s workforce comes at a time when record numbers of people are economically inactive due to long-term sickness, and the issue of health and safety has shot to the top of the list of priorities for businesses, which are operating in a world where employee engagement levels are stagnating with potentially huge economic consequences. 

British Safety Council chairman Peter McGettrick: “This was an opportunity missed by all parties to set out a positive vision for a safer, healthier future, where people's wellbeing is at the heart of economic growth.” Photograph: iStock/Dian_S_Cahya

Responding to the manifestos published this week by the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties, British Safety Council chairman Peter McGettrick said: “The lack of focus given to people's health, safety and wellbeing in the main manifestos for this General Election is disappointing, especially given the challenges facing both the country and people in work.

“This was an opportunity missed by all parties to set out a positive vision for a safer, healthier future, where people's wellbeing is at the heart of economic growth.”

Instead, added McGettrick, the main party manifestos were “largely silent on health, safety or wellbeing”. While acknowledging that the manifestos contained some policies to tackle poor mental health, British Safety Council’s chairman said they had failed to deliver specific solutions to the broader issues that affect workers’ overall health, safety and wellbeing.

Among some of the policies announced on health, the Liberal Democrats said they would improve early access to mental health services by establishing mental health hubs for young people, and would introduce regular mental health check-ups at key points in people’s lives when they are most vulnerable to mental ill health. The party also said it would establish a Health Creation Unit in the Cabinet Office to lead work across government to improve the nation’s health and tackle health inequalities.

British Safety Council, in its Health, Safety and Wellbeing Manifesto, has called for a holistic approach to health and wellbeing through the appointment of a dedicated Minister for Wellbeing, who would lead a national wellbeing strategy.

The Conservative party has pledged to modernise autism and learning disability services, while Labour said it would modernise legislation to give patients greater choice, autonomy, enhanced rights and support in both mental and physical health treatment.

Underscoring the need for more joined-up thinking on people’s health, safety and wellbeing, a report published last month by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that anxiety levels among the UK population are rising, while life satisfaction levels are falling. This followed an earlier ONS report which revealed that the number of working-age people in the UK who are economically inactive had risen again – primarily due to a record number of people with long-term sickness.

Another survey released by Gallup points to a “global deterioration in mental health”, linked to a stagnation in global employee engagement in 2023 and a decline in workers’ overall wellbeing. Gallup estimates that low employee engagement costs the global economy almost $9 trillion, or 9% of global GDP.

Business leaders appear to have recognised the urgency. A survey of global company directors published by law firm Clyde & Co showed that health and safety was ranked as the number one risk by company bosses in 2024, ahead of risks such as cyber-attacks and data loss. Part of the reason behind health and safety’s ascent to the top of the list, said the report, is a greater focus on people’s health and wellbeing since the Covid-19 pandemic.

British Safety Council’s McGettrick said the organisation would “welcome the opportunity to work with whoever forms the next Government to help put workers’ health, safety and wellbeing front and centre over the course of the next Parliament”.