Half a million British workers stop working due to long-term illness and mental health problems


The number of people who have left the UK labor market since 2019 and now cite long-term illness or mental health problems has risen by half a million or about 25%, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The increase in long-term sick leave started in 2019, before the pandemic, before rising sharply by 363,000 to 2.5 million between early 2020 and the three months to the end of August 2022.

The analysis adds to the concerns of the Bank of England, which is trying to tame inflation, which is now at a 40-year high. The BoE is concerned that the number of people leaving the UK workforce will fuel inflationary pressures and the latest labor market data pointed to record outflows of staff.

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“More understanding is needed about the impact of National Health Service (NHS) wait times, long COVID and the aging workforce,” the ONS said in a report published Thursday that analyzes previously announced official data.

Prolonged illness was the reason given by 28% of people not working or looking for work between June and August 2022, a 25% increase at the start of the pandemic.

However, most people who now cite long-term illness as a reason for not entering or seeking employment originally dropped out of the job market for another reason.

The most common and fastest-rising category of ill health was ‘other health conditions or disabilities’ – although the ONS questioned whether the increase was primarily caused by long-term COVID, as the largest increase occurred in 2019.

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Mental and nervous disorders increased by 22%, but depression and anxiety remained unchanged.

Great Britain behind

Separate data showed Britain is lagging behind almost all rich countries in their post-COVID labor market recovery and on track to become the only one important developed country with employment below pre-pandemic levels by early 2023.

According to the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) which analyzed the data, a combination of factors, including an increase in early retirement, long-term illness and reduced migration, is depleting the UK’s workforce.

Great Britain had 600,000 more people who did not participate in the labor market compared to 2019. That is despite the fact that unemployment has fallen to its lowest level in almost 50 years.

Before the pandemic, Britain had a very high employment rate by historical and international standards.

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Among the developed countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, only Switzerland and Latvia have seen greater post-COVID employment declines.

“We have record low unemployment, but hours worked are still below February 2020 levels,” said Neil Carberry, CEO of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation. “That makes economic inactivity a huge challenge to our future ability to deliver growth and prosperity.”

(Reporting by Suban Abdulla; Editing by David Milliken)

Photo: Office workers cross the London Bridge in the early morning on their way to the City of London in 2018. Photo credit: Bigstock.

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