Sick workers

Sick People Leaving Workforce at Record Highs

A recent report by the Resolution Foundation indicates a concerning trend in the UK labour market, with the number of individuals leaving the workforce due to long-term sickness reaching record highs.

According to the report, the count of economically inactive adults due to ill health surged from 2.1 million in July 2019 to a peak of 2.8 million in October 2023. This increase marks the most prolonged rise since records began in 1994-1998.

The Foundation’s analysis revealed that individuals at both ends of the age spectrum represented the highest proportion of those out of work due to ongoing health issues.

Louise Murphy, a senior economist at the Foundation, warned of the potential ramifications on individuals’ living standards and career trajectories, emphasizing that younger and older demographics accounted for the majority of the overall rise in economic inactivity.

Despite a slight decrease to 2.7 million in December 2023, the UK remains the only G7 economy yet to return to its pre-pandemic employment rate, the Foundation noted.

The report highlighted a concerning trend predating the pandemic, with a continuous 54-month increase in long-term sickness-related economic inactivity. Claims for disability benefits, particularly for Personal Independence Payment (PIP), saw a significant uptick, with a 68% rise from 2020 to 2024.

Moreover, the Foundation underscored the strain on healthcare and welfare spending, urging improvements in public health to curb economic inactivity. Mental health disorders and musculoskeletal problems were cited as prevalent reasons for benefit claims.

Responding to the report, a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokesperson emphasized the government’s efforts to boost the labor force, citing record-high employment and reduced workless households. Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s proposed reforms include stricter fit-to-work tests and increased jobseeker support, aiming to integrate 200,000 more individuals into the workforce.

Shazia Ejaz from the Recruitment and Employment Federation (REC) attributed the rise in economic inactivity partly to lengthy NHS waiting lists and called for improved infrastructure in areas such as transportation, childcare, and social care to address the challenge.

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