Absence in social services departments is 50 per cent higher than in local government as a whole.
Social services staff take an average of 14.6 days sick a year, 6.4 per cent of their working time, compared to 9.6 days or 4.2 per cent of working hours lost by other staff.
The only other group to come close in the public sector is the prison service, which loses 6.1 per cent of its working time through absence.
The 1998-99 figures from the Employers’ Organisation for Local Government – the latest research available – show that little progress has been made on the previous year when 14.9 days were taken, giving a rate of 6.5 per cent.
The sector is notorious for stress and long-term sickness absence. These conditions continue to prevail with half the absence being long-term and stress being the single biggest cause, accounting for one in six sick days.
Women, people working in manual jobs and those working in community homes took the most time off sick.
Men, non-manual employees and those working in strategic or central support roles were absent less often, the survey found. It received responses from 61 per cent of social services departments in England and Wales, found.
“The survey shows that much work needs to be done by local government,” said Rob Pinkham, deputy director of the Employers’ Organisation.
“While there have been improvements by a number of authorities, the overall level is still too high,” Pinkham said.