Published by BBC NEWS - 16th May 2023
  • Published
Tired woman lying on a sofaImage source, Getty Images

The number of people not working in the UK due to long-term sickness has risen to a new record, official figures show.

The Office for National Statistics said more than two and a half million were not working because of health problems.

There had been a rise in mental health issues in younger people, the ONS said, as well as in back and neck pain, possibly due to home working.

The latest jobs data also showed a rise in part-time and self-employed workers helped to push up the employment rate.

The number of job vacancies fell again as firms hold back on recruitment, although the level still remains high.

The ONS figures also showed that the squeeze on pay remains, with increases in regular wages failing to keep up with the rising cost of living.

Speaking to the BBC’s Today programme, Darren Morgan, director of economic statistics at the ONS, said that since the Covid pandemic started there are “well over 400,000 more people outside of the labour market due to ill health and that means we are now at a new record level of comfortably over two and a half million”.

He added that an increase had been seen in “conditions related to mental health, particularly in the young”. There was also a rising number of people “having musculoskeletal issues, so problems connected to the back and neck, with some theories of the increase in home working contributing to that”.

“We’ve also seen an increase in the category that includes post-viral fatigue so perhaps long Covid having an impact.”

Long-term sickness graphic

The ONS figures showed that the employment rate edged up to 75.9% between January and March, helped by more part-time employees and self-employed workers.

The unemployment rate also rose slightly to 3.9%. The ONS said these changes meant the number of those neither working nor looking for work had continued to fall.

The number of people on employers’ payrolls dropped in April, the first decline in more than two years, although the ONS said this was an early estimate that could be revised later.

The number of vacancies also fell for the 10th consecutive period, with the ONS saying that uncertainty about the economic outlook meant that firms were holding back on recruitment.

Workers’ pay increases are still being outstripped by rising prices, the latest data showed.

Growth in regular pay, which excludes bonuses, was 6.7% in the first three months of the year. However, the ONS said that when price rises are taken into account, regular pay fell by 2%.

Pay growth in the public sector was 5.6%, which was the highest rate since 2003.

The number of working days lost to strikes rose to 556,000 in March 2023, up from 332,000 in February, with walkouts in the health and education sectors accounting for four-fifths of the total.

The Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, said: “It’s encouraging that the unemployment rate remains historically low but difficulty in finding staff and rising prices are a worry for many families and businesses.

“That’s why we must stick to our plan to halve inflation and help families with the cost of living, while delivering our childcare reforms and supporting older people and disabled people who want to work.”

Shadow work and pensions secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “Today we see yet more evidence that this Tory government is a drag on Britain’s economy.

“Family finances are being squeezed to breaking point by a further fall in real wages, fewer people are in employment than before the pandemic and the number of people out of work due to long-term sickness has reached a record high.”




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