More than half of people out of work since the pandemic because of long-term sickness are aged over 50, according to research.
An analysis of data from the Office for National Statistics for over-50s digital community Rest Less has concluded that, across all age groups, there are nearly 511,000 extra people out of work because of long-term sickness since before the pandemic (July to September 2022 compared with July to September 2019).
However, 59% of those who are economically inactive because of long-term sickness are aged 50+.
In all, there are some 1.6 million over-50s out of work because of long-term sickness, it concluded, a 20% increase in three years (July to September 2022 compared with July to September 2019).
More than one-in-three (38%) economically inactive 50-64-year-olds are out of work because of long-term sickness, it added.
The ONS itself in its various data updates has highlighted a combination of long-term sickness, especially long Covid, and longer NHS waiting lists meaning those off work and waiting for elective treatment can end up getting stuck at home.
Rest Less analysed a bespoke dataset from the ONS that compared the reasons for economic inactivity by age group in July-September 2022 and July-September 2019.
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Rest Less’s analysis found that the number of people aged 50+ economically inactive because of long-term sickness increased from 1.35 million in July-September 2019 to 1.62m in the same time period in 2022 – an increase of 270,000 or 20%.
Exploring the reasons for economic inactivity, the analysis showed that, for 50- to 64-year-olds, pre-state pension age, the main reason for economic inactivity was long-term sickness or disability (1.38 million), followed by retirement (1.16 million), and looking after family (535,000).
Stuart Lewis, Rest Less chief executive, said: “A rise in long-term ill health has significantly reduced the size of the UKs potential workforce amongst all ages since the pandemic, but it is a particularly large driver of the reduction in available workers in their 50s and 60s.
“Of the 2.8 million people out of work due to long-term sickness, nearly 60% are aged over 50. Not only is this a national health issue with thousands of people suffering silently, but it’s increasingly an economic issue too – not least because many of these people want to work in some capacity, if the right opportunities were available to them,” he added.
Kim Chaplain, specialist advisor for work at the Centre for Ageing Better, argued better and wider access to occupational health support could be one answer.
“Among the thousands highlighted within the ONS stats, many are currently stuck within, or outside, of an employment support system that does not work for them. What we would like to see is a more responsive and joined up system of support linking health and employment support in a way tailored to the needs of older workers,” she said.
“Employers can play their part too by ensuring that they are offering workers the flexible work opportunities and the occupational health support that would give employees the opportunity to try and manage any health issues they might have within employment rather than having to manage their health full-time as long-term sick because they could not find the right balance in employment.”