More than 100,000 people are missing work because they suffer from long Covid, according to the think tank Institute for Fiscal Studies.
This means they are missing out on £1.5bn a year in lost earnings, the IFS said. According to the Office for National Statistics, the number of people in the UK with long Covid hit 2 million in May – or 3% of the population.
The think tank estimates that at any one time, around 110,000 workers are absent from work. If they are not receiving sick pay, they will lose a typical £1,100 per month in earnings.
Long Covid is defined as when a person has not fully recovered from Covid symptoms for several weeks after initially contracting the virus.
The ONS found that of the 2 million suffering from long Covid, 72% were limited by the condition, and 21% were limited “a lot”.
In June, a Scottish employment tribunal ruled that the condition could be considered a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010.
The IFS points to the fact that the impact tends to be felt unequally, with women and middle-aged workers, or those with a pre-existing health condition, most likely to be sufferers.
Its report also reveals that long Covid sufferers are more likely to have been claiming benefits before the pandemic, or be in poverty. It estimates that one in 10 people who develop long Covid will stop working, with people taking sick leave rather than leaving their jobs altogether.
This leads to hours worked on average reducing by about 2.5 hours per week and earnings by £65 per month (6%), or £1,100 per person who drops out of work, it claims.
“At the individual level, the impact of long Covid on labour market activity can be reasonably long lasting – at least three months after infection and perhaps longer,” the report said.
“This could imply significant consequences for some individuals, especially those without savings or a working partner.”
Many workers are still missing from work at least three months after infection, due to the persistent nature of the virus, the IFS said. However, by the six-month mark, most have returned to work.
Tom Wernham, a research economist at IFS and an author of the report, said: “Though acute Covid is no longer the severe threat to public health and the economy that it once was, the impact of long Covid has continued to grow over time, with almost 2 million now suffering from the condition.”
He said long Covid impacted a “significant minority” of workers and their ability to do paid work. “The rising rate of long Covid could therefore put additional strain on families during the cost of living crisis, especially as long Covid is more common among poorer families, as well as drag on a struggling economy,” he added.