Employment

More people are off work sick than ever before

The number of people off work on long-term sick has been rising for over a year

Campaigners are calling for better better in-work support to stop disabled people and those with mental health problems falling out of work in the first place. Image: Andrea Piacquadio / Pexels

There are now 2.5 million people who are out of work due to long-term sickness, according to new data from the Office for National Statistics, the highest number since records began. 

The quarterly employment statistics show a slight increase in the number of people in work, driven by part-time and self-employed workers but a steep rise of nearly 75,000 people off work with long-term health conditions in the last three months alone. 

“This is a damning indictment of this government’s record on our health,” said Chris Thomas, head of IPPR’s commission on health and prosperity. 

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“Long-term sickness is fatally undermining our economy and holding back people’s ability to live long, happy and prosperous lives.”

“A decade of austerity has created numerous problems with our healthcare service, but equally as important, things that create healthy lives, like good jobs, good housing and good education, have been affected as well.”

For over a year figures from the ONS have been sounding alarm bells over the rising numbers of people out of work due to sickness, which is contributing to the labour shortages that see sectors from hospitality to nursing, construction and prisons, struggling to fill vacancies.

Long term-ill health has been rising consistently over the last three years, overtaking students as the largest group who are out of work, with students increasingly likely to be working to fund their studies. 

Louise Rubin, head of policy at disability equality charity Scope, said: “These figures highlight that huge numbers of disabled people are being let down by government support systems, and shut out of the workplace.

“Disabled people are moving out of work at twice the rate of non-disabled people. We want to see much better in-work support to stop disabled people falling out of work in the first place. Inflexible working practices, delays to Access to Work, and low sick pay rates all make it harder for disabled people to stay and thrive in work.



In March, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt unveiled his “back to work budget”, to address the dwindling numbers of people participating in the labour market. His policies included scrapping the work capability assessment, a move that has been welcomed by campaigners, a new voluntary employment scheme called “universal support”,  and applying sanctions “more rigorously” to those who do not follow instructions to return to work.

“The announcements at the Budget on this were a start,” said Tony Wilson director of The Institute for Employment Studies, “but will largely only replace provision that is already in place and due to end next year. 

“So we need to see more focus in our existing employment services like Jobcentre Plus and the Restart Scheme.” He also called for more investment in specialist employment support and occupational health.

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There are also worrying signs that the struggling economy is starting to have an impact on Britain’s labour market, with the number of workers on employers’ payrolls dropping for the first time in two years last month. 

Provisional figures from the ONS show a 136,000 fall in the number of employees between March and April – the first reduction since February 2021.

The number of job vacancies has also continued to fall, with Britain now facing just over one million vacancies. 

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