Record numbers of UK employees off sick, stats show

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Bad backs, respiratory conditions and mental health were among the top reasons for workers taking off a record number of days off due to sickness last year, according to official figures.

An estimated 185.6 million working days were lost because of sickness or injury in 2022, the highest in almost 20 years, said the ONS.

Although minor illnesses accounted for most sickness absences, a sizeable proportion were given to musculoskeletal problems (10.5 per cent), respiratory conditions (8.3 per cent) and mental health conditions (7.9 per cent).

An estimated 185.6 million working days were lost because of sickness or injury in 2022, the highest in almost 20 years. Photograph: iStock

The figures were published by the ONS in a statistical bulletin released on 26 April.

They show that in 2022, the sickness absence rate (the percentage of working hours lost because of sickness or injury) increased to 2.6 per cent, the highest point since 2004, when it was 2.7 per cent.

The rise in percentage days lost is also remarkable because it reverses a long-term downward trend. Days lost to sickness absence have been steadily falling since the financial crash of 2008, driven according to some commentators by presenteeism.

ONS adds that absence rates for people with long-term health troubles who have also remained in work have also increased.

At 4.9 per cent, the sickness absence rate for workers with long-term health conditions is at its highest point since 2008, when it was 5.1 per cent, says the independent producer of official statistics.

The number of days lost to sickness absence for those with long-term health conditions is also now at a record high of 104.9 million days.

“Our recent analysis showed that half a million more people are out of the labour force because of long-term sickness than in 2019,” says the ONS.

“Despite record numbers exiting the labour market and becoming economically inactive because of long-term sickness, absence rates for those with long-term conditions still in the workforce have increased.”

Sickness absence in the UK ONS data here


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