Employment

A record one in four people out of work say it’s due to long-term sickness

Almost 400,000 people have removed themselves from work altogether since the pandemic started, ONS figures show.

One in four employers are citing long-Covid as a main cause of long-term sickness absences. Image: Unsplash / Shane

The proportion of people out of work due to prolonged ill health has now hit a 20-year high, with long-term sickness becoming the most common reason for being out of work.

Around 2.3 million – one in four – of the 8.7 million people who are out of work and not looking for a job cited long-term sickness as the reason, according to analysis of new data Office for National Statistics data conducted by Pro Bono Economics. 

“Long-term sickness now accounts for 26 per cent of all economic inactivity – the largest single reason cited – and a proportion high not seen since 2002,” said Helen Barnard, research and policy director at the organisation.

Almost 400,000 people have removed themselves from work altogether since the pandemic started and are neither working nor looking for a job, the ONS said. Half of those said it was due to long-term illness. 

Long term-ill health has been “rising consistently over the last two years to overtake ‘students’” who are increasingly likely to be in-work, said Tony Wilson, director of the Institute for Employment Studies.

Many of those who are out of work are “people who had poor health pre-pandemic, but have left work or (have) not been able to return” he continued. Long-term sickness is defined as having a health problem lasting 12 months or longer.

A quarter of employers have cited long Covid as a main cause of long-term sickness absences, according to a survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), which questioned how workers with the condition were being supported to continue working.

Responding to the new ONS figures, Stephen Evans, chief executive of the Learning and Work Institute said that they demonstrate the government’s new Way to Work initiative “is focused on the wrong problem.”

The recently launched initiative only targets those “who are capable of work” by reducing the time a person has to find a job which suits their experience from three months to one, at which point they could be sanctioned and pushed deeper into hardship.

The government should instead, “do more to help the 1.1 million fewer people in the labour market than on pre-pandemic trends, driven by rising numbers of people who are long-term sick”, he continued. “We need a new Plan for Jobs, Growth and Living Standards.”

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