- Written by Nick Edser and Ben King
- Business correspondents
Official figures show the number of people out of work in the UK due to long-term illness has risen to a new record.
The Office for National Statistics said more than 2.5 million are out of work due to health problems.
The office said there was an increase in mental health problems in young people, as well as in back and neck pain, possibly due to working from home.
ONS figures also showed lingering wage pressures, with wage increases failing to keep pace with higher prices.
However, public sector salaries are now growing at the fastest pace in nearly 20 years.
The Office for National Statistics said a rise in part-time and self-employed workers helped lift employment in the first three months of the year, and the number of vacancies fell again.
Speaking to the BBC’s Today programme, Darren Morgan, director of economic statistics at the Office for National Statistics, said that since the Covid pandemic began there have been “more than 400,000 people out of the labor market due to ill health and that means we are now at a new record high of over Comfortably about two and a half million.”
He added that an increase in “mental health-related cases, particularly in young people”, has been observed. There was also an increasing number of people “with musculoskeletal problems, so back and neck related problems, with some theories of increased home working contributing to this”.
“We’ve also seen an increase in the category that includes post-viral fatigue, so maybe covid is having a lingering effect.”
There are 2.55 million people classified as long-term sick, compared to 33 million people who are currently working. This means that for every 13 people who are currently working, there is one person who is sick for a long time.
The Office for National Statistics said the employment rate rose to 75.9% between January and March, helped by more part-time employees and the self-employed, but the unemployment rate also rose slightly to 3.9%.
The Office for National Statistics said the changes meant the number of people out of work and looking for work continued to fall.
One reason the British economy is underperforming compared to other developed countries has been the situation of missing workers, after millions were put out of work during the pandemic.
Getting these people back to work is a key part of the government’s plan to get the economy back up and running again, and to address the shortage of workers that has affected many sectors of the economy.
Recent figures show mixed progress on this front. Large numbers of students, caregivers and even some retirees have begun looking for work again, bringing the inactivity rate – the key measure of people not working – down to 21%.
However, the high number of people who are too sick to work is likely to worry policymakers.
“These figures show some nice progress in getting people back into the job market,” said Neil Carberry, chief executive of the Employment and Employment Confederation.
“But we should be concerned about the large number of people who are economically inactive because they are ill, and progress in addressing inactivity in general is very slow.
“It’s been a year since the Office for National Statistics reported high unemployment, underemployment, high inflation and very little change. This is holding back the economy by restricting the ability of businesses to grow.”
- The number of workers on the payroll fell in April, the first drop in more than two years
- Job openings fell for the 10th straight period, as companies held back on hiring due to uncertainty about the economic outlook
- Growth in normal wages, excluding bonuses, was 6.7% in the first three months of the year, but when price increases are taken into account, normal salary fell by 2%
- Public sector wage growth was 5.6%, the highest rate since 2003
- The number of lost workdays due to strikes increased to 556,000 in March 2023, mainly due to strikes in the health and education sectors.
While the numbers of job vacancies have been steadily declining in recent months, there are still more than 1 million vacancies.
Responding to the latest figures, the chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, said: “It is encouraging that the unemployment rate remains historically low, but difficulty finding staff and rising prices are a concern for many families and businesses.”
But shadow work and pensions minister Jonathan Ashworth said the government had been a “burden” on the economy as household finances were “squeezed to breaking point by a further fall in real wages” and fewer people working in jobs than before the pandemic. .
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