Half a million more people are out of work because of long-term sickness than before the Covid-19 pandemic, including a rise in people with back and neck conditions – most likely because of increased home working.
New economic inactivity figures published by the Office for National Statistics show that there were 2.5 million working-age people who were out of work in summer 2022, up from two million in spring 2019.
Although the rise in long-term sickness began before the pandemic, the ONS said the number of people out of work because of a health condition has leapt by 363,000 since Covid hit in early 2020.
Comparing April to June 2022 with the same period in 2019, there was a 41% increase in people reporting being out of work because of “other health problems or disabilities”. Respondents were not given guidance around what could fall into this category, but the ONS suggested many of these responses could be from people with long Covid.
Back and neck conditions
According to Office for National Statistics (ONS) data on long Covid in the UK, around 0.8% of those who were economically inactive in the four weeks to 3 September 2022 also reported they had long Covid that was limiting their life a lot. This is equivalent to around 75,000 people.
There was a 31% rise in people off work with back and neck problems, the category that saw the second largest increase.
The ONS said: “The biggest year-on-year increase was between 2021 and 2022; it is possible that increased home working since the pandemic has given rise to these kinds of chronic conditions.”
The number of economically inactive people reporting depression, bad nerves and anxiety as their main health condition returned to pre-pandemic levels. However, the number reporting mental illness and nervous disorders has risen 22%, with the sharpest increases seen after 2020.
The figures also showed that:
- Those aged 25-34 saw the largest relative increase in long-term sickness between 2019 (11%) and 2022 (14%). Of those in this age group, 60% were male.
- More than half (55%) of people out of work because of illness were aged 50-64.
- Mental illness and phobias saw the largest increase in long-term sickness among younger workers (those aged 16-34). Progressive illnesses, such as cancer, also increased in this age group.
- Former wholesale and retail industry workers were overrepresented among those out of work because of long-term illness. There were over 10 recently employed retail or wholesale workers who are now inactive because of long-term sickness for every 1,000 current workers in the industry, double the UK average of 4.9.
- The lowest paid occupations were more represented among the long-term sick.