Number of people on sick leave hits 2.54million – up nearly a fifth since before pandemic 


‘We’re too sick to work’: Number of people on sick leave hits 2.54million – up almost a fifth from before the pandemic

  • A total of 2.54million working-age people said they are too unwell to hold a job
  • Figures mean sickness may have cut labour force by about 400,000 in that time
  • Most of those who cannot work – 2.3million – class themselves as long-term sick 

The number of people on long-term sick leave has leapt by nearly a fifth since before the pandemic.

As employers struggle to hire staff, a staggering 2.54 million working-age people said they were too unwell to hold down a job this spring, according to the Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) Labour Force Survey – up 18 per cent from spring 2019.

It means that sickness may have cut the labour force by about 400,000 in that time.

For every person officially classed as unemployed – just under 1.3 million – there are now two who say they cannot work because they are incapacitated.

Most of those who say they cannot work – 2.3 million (92 per cent) – class themselves as long-term sick.

Between 2012 and 2019, this number tracked close to two million but since the pandemic has begun to rise.

The number of people on long-term sick leave has leapt by nearly a fifth since before Covid

The number of people on long-term sick leave has leapt by nearly a fifth since before Covid

Exactly why the sickness rate has risen so much – the last time it topped 2.5 million was in 2005 – is unknown. Some think it reflects the grim physical legacy of the pandemic, with long Covid severely affecting people’s ability to work.

Two million people of all ages were suffering from it in early May, according to the ONS.

Others fear that Covid has allowed a workshy mentality to develop, aided by the ‘work from home’ culture and abetted by Government decisions to hand out large amounts of money such as furlough cash.

Vicky Redwood, of the consultancy Capital Economics, said it was unclear why long Covid appeared to affect the UK more than countries such as France, Spain, Canada and Australia.

The ONS figures chime with those from a survey last autumn by YouGov for the Resolution Foundation, a Left-leaning think tank.

It estimated that 600,000 working-age adults had left the workforce or are working fewer hours because of ‘long Covid or fear of the virus’.

Some fear that Covid has allowed a workshy mentality to develop, aided by the ‘work from home’ culture and abetted by Government decisions to hand out large amounts of money

Some fear that Covid has allowed a workshy mentality to develop, aided by the ‘work from home’ culture and abetted by Government decisions to hand out large amounts of money

Mental health was the most common pandemic-related reason people gave for not working, cited by more than half of under-55s.

Over-55s have been the least likely to quit or reduce work for Covid-related reasons, despite being the age group at most risk.

Less than two per cent of over-55s said they had done so, compared with more than four per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds.

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