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Increasing Number of Individuals Unemployed Due to Extended Illness

Economists have raised concerns about the significant challenges posed by long-term sickness and economic inactivity for the government.

Official data has shown a sharp increase in the number of people out of work due to long-term illness nationwide, reaching a record high.

According to the Office for National Statistics, from December 2023 to February 2024, there were 2.829 million individuals on long-term sick leave in the UK.

This marked a record increase of 16,000 people from the previous quarter, setting a new high in data series concerning economic inactivity due to long-term illness.

The latest data also indicates a rise in the economic inactivity rate, which represents the percentage of individuals aged 16 to 64 not participating in the workforce, surpassing estimates from a year ago by 22.2%, as reported by the ONS.
The increase in the inactivity rate was chiefly driven by individuals inactive due to long-term illness or being students, particularly within the 16 to 34 age group over both the latest quarter and the past year.
The number of people absent from work due to long-term health issues has been steadily climbing since the pandemic years, reaching peaks in 2022 and 2023, with the current rate still exceeding pre-pandemic levels.

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A think tank, the Resolution Foundation, highlighted a positive note that real wages among those still employed grew by 2.1% in the three months leading up to February. However, economist Charlie McCurdy pointed out that rising inactivity and long-term sickness point to broader concerns about the health of the UK workforce.

Mr. McCurdy stressed, “Tackling rising inactivity—and its impact on public finances, the benefits system, and people’s overall health and well-being—is a significant economic challenge for the government, regardless of the upcoming election.”

Two years ago, the government committed to increasing life expectancy by five years by 2035 as part of its levelling up agenda. However, the Health Foundation warned that health inequalities are likely to persist in the coming decades, with certain conditions driving health deterioration disproportionately among socioeconomically deprived areas.

The report cited chronic pain, type 2 diabetes, anxiety, and depression as conditions projected to increase at a higher rate in the most deprived areas by 2040, where the majority of working-age individuals living with major illnesses reside.

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