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Sick days in UK reach record high of 185m as Covid-19 hangs on

Working days lost in the UK due to people being sick have climbed to a record high of just over 185m, official figures out today reveal.

The new figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) indicate that Covid-19 is still having a nagging impact on the UK economy and the health of the country’s workforce.

In 2019, the year before the virus spread, the volume of days lost to people being ill hit 138.2m, about 50m fewer than their present level, and had been on a downward slope for around two decades.

The sickness rate, which calculates the proportion of working hours lost because of sickness, climbed to 2.6 per cent, the highest level since 2004.

Analysts said the rise in the share of working hours lost due to illness could squeeze the country’s capacity to make goods and services if it continues.

“It signals further deterioration in the country’s production potential, and if continued, further decline in long term economic growth,” Yael Selfin, chief economist at KPMG UK, told City A.M.

“Our strong hunch is that the ongoing prevalence of Covid was the main reason behind [the rise],” Sandra Horsfield, an economist at Investec, told City A.M.

The ONS categorises Covid-19 related sickness in its “other” bucket of cases, a reason which has been rising rapidly since 2019. Just under 24 in every 100 sick days were down to this factor last year.

Minor illnesses, like colds and flu, were the most common cases at around 29 per cent of all sick days.

Every single age group underwent a jump in their sickness absence rate last year, the ONS said.

Women, specifically older women, are among the most likely to take a day off work for being ill.

Female workers aged 50 to 64 missed on average just over four days of work due to illness in every 100 working days, compared to three in every 100 among men in this age group.

People with long-term health issues were also highly likely to miss work, the ONS said, adding to evidence that the UK’s labour force is being constrained by a big rise in chronic sickness since the beginning of the pandemic.

However, James Smith, a developed markets economist at Dutch bank ING, told City A.M. the main factor driving up the absence rate was temporary sickness.

Separate ONS figures show some 500,000 people have flowed into economic inactivity – defined as out of work and not looking for a job – since the early stages of the virus spread.

A paucity of workers could hold back economic growth by stopping businesses from expanding, economists have warned.

Experts have also suggested a swelling in the NHS backlog has prevented people from accessing routine treatment, forcing them out of the jobs market. A big rise in older workers taking early retirement has also been said to have led economic inactivity higher.

Working days lost due to sickness per worker hit 5.7, which the ONS said wasn’t a record.


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