Long-term sickness absence from work reaches record high

Long-term sickness absence from work reaches record high

The number of people absent from work due to long-term sickness has reached a record high of 2.8 million.  This is an increase of 700,000 over the past three years.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has stated that unemployment rates have risen to 4.2 per cent and that the number of people of working age and in employment had dropped by 141,000.  A drop in employment vacancies shows that the labour market is under pressure coupled with high interest rates and a slow rate of economic growth.

Growing NHS waiting lists have resulted in people being unable to receive routine treatment which they need to keep them in work.  Therefore, they are pushed out of the workforce through no fault of their own.  In addition, increasing levels of mental health problems, particularly amongst young people and a tightening on benefit provision rules, have been cited as further factors detracting people from the labour market.  

The number of economically inactive people of working age in Britain hit 9.4 million to the end of February, levels not seen since the global financial crisis and credit crunch.  

There is clearly a crisis impacting the workforce and an overall ability to work.  Recent announcements made by Rishi Sunak in relation to fit notes and reducing the power of GPs to issue these is not a golden bullet.  The key is in changing the societal pressures and issues that are making people ill or preventing them from working.  Making it more difficult for someone to get a fit note is not an answer.  Improving living conditions, reducing the cost of living and ensuring people have access to proper and timely healthcare is going to keep people working.  In addition, if employers make reasonable adjustments and more effort to understand employees with mental health issues then there will be, by definition, a reduction in people away from work as a result of these issues.  

Most of our work concerns employees that are unwell and absent from work arising from complex ill-health, long-term health conditions which are often combined with mental health concerns and/or neurodiversity.  In many of these cases the working environment and the treatment afforded to individuals by their employer impact their ability to be in work.  That is not to say that all employers are responsible for the absence of their employees, but from my experience, more needs to be done to provide employees with the right support to facilitate their consistent attendance at work.

This blog was written by Elizabeth McGlone, Partner at didlaw.