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Sickness having 'worrying' effect on UK economy

Fiona Kyle
April 18, 2023

The latest figures from the Office of National Statistics make the effect that long term sickness is having on the labour market clear - and show the knock-on effect that this has on the UK economy.

There are more than 2.5 million people who are currently 'economically inactive' (not in work or seeking work) who say that long-term sickness is the reason why they are not looking for a job - and this number is increasing fast.

The total number of people inactive due to health has risen by more than 150,000 over the past year and by 89,000 in the three months to February.

Not only does this affect the individual people, it also affects the economy as there are currently more than 1m job vacancies that need to be filled.

Jane Gratton from the British Chambers of Commerce explained that the unfilled job roles means that firms are unable to take on new work which makes it difficult to increase pay levels which is contributing to the drop in real pay - what a salary is actually worth compared to the cost of living.

The amount of people on long-term sick is, in part, due to the current crisis in the NHS where there is a record number of people - more than 7 million - waiting for hospital treatment. The size of the waiting lists is only increasing against a backdrop of strikes over pay and conditions.

Director of the Work Foundation at Lancaster University thinktank, Ben Harrison, said: “The OECD recently found that the UK has suffered the biggest decline in workforce participation of any G7 economy since the pandemic.”

Tony Wilson, director at the Institute for Employment Studies, said: “Figures for long-term ill health are particularly worrying, rising again in the latest data to a new peak of over 2.5 million. This is being driven in particular by people staying out of work longer, rather than more people leaving work now.

“So we need to focus in particular on how we help those who want to work to get back in – with specialist employment support, faster access to health services and more inclusive recruitment and workplace support.”