Long-term absence from work rockets as 2.5million are on long-term sick leave

Long-term absence from work has rocketed to its highest level since 2004, as 2.5 million people languish on the sick list.

Those suffering mental health issues, back and neck pain – sometimes due to home working – have increased. Coughs and colds have also made a comeback post-Covid.

Office for National Statistics figures show 185.6million working days were lost to sickness or injury last year. That was 2.6 percent of all working hours, up from 2.2 percent in 2021.

Back in 2020, it was just 1.8 percent, as lockdowns and lack of social mixing prevented bugs circulating. The latest rise, driven by an increase in minor illnesses and respiratory conditions, means that for every 13 people working, one is long-term sick.

Wales had the highest sickness rate – at 3.6 percent – among the home nations, followed by Scotland with 3 percent. Northern Ireland’s was 2.7 percent and England 2.5 percent.

The lowest rate was in London at 2.1 percent. There, the ONS said younger workers and more high-skilled jobs with fewer absences played a part.

Britain’s public sector workers had an absence rate of 3.6 percent compared with their private sector counterparts at 2.3 percent, up 0.6 and 0.4 percentage points respectively from 2021.

Public sector sickness has been higher for every year on record. The ONS suggests the types of jobs and better sick pay could be factors.

David Freeman, of the ONS, said: “Because the working population is much bigger now than it was nearly 20 years ago, the total number of working days lost last year was the highest on record.”

The figures also showed wage increases failing to keep up with rising prices.However, public sector pay is growing at the fastest pace for about 20 years.

The ONS said a rise in part-time and self-employed workers helped push up the employment rate in the first three months of this year and the number of job vacancies fell again.

In more strain on the jobs market, the jobless rate hit 3.9 percent in the three months to March. It was up from 3.8 percent in the previous quarter and the highest level since the three months to January 2022.

It also showed the first drop in payrolled workers for more than two years. The ONS said the more timely PAYE figures indicated the first salaried staff fall since February 2021 – and an estimated 136,000 reduction to 29.8 million.

In another sign of a flagging jobs market, vacancies fell by 55,000 quarter-on-quarter to 1.08 million in the three months to April amid “uncertainty across industries”.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said while the low unemployment rate was encouraging, “difficulty in finding staff and rising prices are a worry for many families and businesses”.

Industrial unrest meant the loss of 556,000 working days to strikes in March – up from 332,000 in February.

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