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Departmental Absence Management

Volume 597: debated on Tuesday 23 June 2015

7. How many days of sickness absence there were in his Department in (a) 2012, (b) 2013 and (c) 2014; and if he will make a statement. (900491)

The average number of days lost to sickness absence in the Ministry of Justice was 9.8 in 2012 and 2013, and 10.2 in 2014. The Department is committed to supporting the health and wellbeing of its employees and reducing sickness absence.

Obviously, those are disappointing figures. Is the Minister aware that last year’s figures were twice as bad as those in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and four times as bad as those in the Department for International Development? What will she, the Secretary of State and other Ministers do to improve morale and sort out this very disappointing situation?

A large proportion of Ministry of Justice roles involve front-line prison staff, whose working environment is, of course, more physically rigorous than those of staff with office-based roles. It is important to note that other Departments’ sickness numbers do not include front-line roles such as those of soldiers, police officers and, indeed, nurses. When we take into account only civil servants who are employed in Whitehall, we see that Ministry of Justice staff actually take fewer sick days than those in other Departments.

But that suggests that it is prison officers who have been the victim of assaults by prisoners, for example, who are taking sickness absence. What is this year’s rate of assaults on prison officers, and what is the Department doing to reduce it?

Of course the Department takes any assault on a prison officer incredibly seriously. It is essential that prison officers feel that the full weight of the state is behind them as they fulfil their duties. When there are serious assaults on prison staff, the perpetrators will be prosecuted unless there is an extremely good reason for not doing so.