The government is being dishonest about the UK's ‘compensation culture’ in order to justify cutting basic health and safety protections at work, a report backed by the TUC claimed yesterday.
On the day that the new extended portal for employers’ and public liability claims worth up to £25,000 went live, the report argued that thousands of workers suffering from deadly occupational diseases are being denied payouts.
The report, by the workers’ health journal Hazards, found that the number of people receiving awards for work-related injuries or diseases has fallen by 60% over the last decade – down from 219,183 in 2000/01 to 87,655 in 2011/12.
It said that for most occupational cancers, the chances of getting any compensation payout is below 1 in 50. While more than 4,000 workers a year die of work-related chronic bronchitis and emphysema, just 59 received compensation in 2011/12.
For those suffering from work-related stress, anxiety and depression, the chances of getting compensation are even smaller. Of the 221,000 cases in 2011/12, just 293 resulted in a payout.
As well as the Jackson reforms – meaning “victims now give an unhealthy slice… of any payout to the lawyers” – the TUC cited changes to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme, and the outlawing of strict liability claims where there has been a criminal breach of safety law by the employer but negligence has not been proven.
TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: “The government is trying to brainwash people into thinking the UK has a rife compensation culture.
“However, the facts tell a very different story. Even those dying from work-related diseases have precious little chance of getting a payout. The true government motive here is to weaken health and safety laws and make it harder to for victims to pursue claims.”
Hazards editor Rory O'Neill, professor of occupational health at Stirling University and the author of the report, said: “The government's cynical promotion of a compensation culture myth means many workers who are dying in pain are also dying in poverty.
“We are seeing a denial of justice because the government is putting the health of the insurance industry and the safety of the most dangerous rogues in the business community over the health, safety and survival of people at work.”
Welcoming the extended portal, justice minister Helen Grant emphasised that it would only reduce what insurers have to pay in legal fees and thus charge in insurance premiums, rather than the amount of compensation itself.