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Record number of long-term sick

Diane Hall


Woman Sitting in Front of Macbook stressed about being poorly at work

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The United Kingdom is currently facing a pressing issue, with a record number of individuals on long-term sick. The UK’s growing population of people unable to work, due to illness or disability, has significant consequences for both the economy and staffing levels across various sectors. 

Causes of the surge

Several factors contribute to the rising number of individuals on long-term sick. Firstly, an ageing population with various chronic diseases is a significant driver. However, the issue is not confined to the elderly; more people of working age make up this number than ever before. Conditions such as cardiovascular diseases, mental health disorders, and musculoskeletal problems often result in extended periods of sickness absence. Additionally, occupational factors, including workplace stress, excessive workloads, and poor work-life balance can contribute to long-term sick leave.

Impact on the UK economy

The mounting number of long-term sick individuals poses significant challenges to the UK economy. Firstly, the cost of providing benefits, such as long-term sickness and disability allowances, increases when more people require financial support from the welfare system in place of an income. This places a strain on public finances and affects the economy overall. Furthermore, the loss of productivity resulting from absenteeism and reduced work hours of long-term sick employees also hampers economic growth.

Moreover, the burden on the National Health Service (NHS) escalates, as individuals with long-term health conditions typically require ongoing medical care, which puts a strain on healthcare resources for the rest of the UK population. If the NHS is required to allocate substantial funds to manage chronic diseases, this will impact its ability to address other healthcare needs.

Staffing challenges in various industries

The rise of long-term sick individuals also creates staffing challenges across different sectors. In healthcare, where staff shortages are already a concern, the additional strain of accommodating absent workers places further pressure on the overall system. Healthcare institutions, when facing difficulties in maintaining adequate staffing levels, are subsequently forced to deliver longer waiting times, a reduced quality of care, and increased healthcare costs.

The education sector is another affected by the impact of long-term absence. Schools and universities are struggling to find substitute teachers and lecturers in the wake of long-term sick employees, which results in a disrupted education for students. 

The private sector is also experiencing setbacks due to employees on long-term sick leave. Employers face increased outlay associated with the hiring of temporary staff and the cost of additional training to their remaining employees. The absence of skilled workers can also affect productivity, project completion timelines, and fundamental business operations.

Addressing the issue 

To mitigate the consequences of a record number of long-term sick people, a comprehensive approach is required. This includes investing in preventive healthcare measures, promoting mental health and well-being initiatives in workplaces, and providing support for individuals with chronic illnesses or disabilities. Employers can adopt flexible work arrangements, implement health and safety policies, and establish employee assistance programmes to support their workforce.

The government also needs to focus on strengthening healthcare services, improving access to specialists, and developing effective rehabilitation programmes to support the return of long-term sick individuals to the workplace.

There’s also the unspoken element…

People who choose long-term sickness as a lifestyle choice. This section of the population aren’t employees on long-term leave—most have never worked a day in their lives. 

Of course, there are thousands and thousands of genuinely disabled and sick people who can’t work, and these are not the people I’m referring to. I’m talking about those who put all their knowledge, time and efforts into playing the system. This issue is often generational and very rarely do these families have the conditions they claim to have. 

I have neighbours and family members who are quite proud of receiving handouts for fictitious ailments; they believe everyone else is stupid to work. The DWP try and get them into jobs so that they can contribute to the economy they’re happy to take money from; however, perhaps unsurprisingly, welfare departments eventually give up. 

These individuals dodging work would genuinely rather injure themselves/contract the condition they’re immorally claiming for than join the UK workforce. And if someone has that intention, the DWP can only do so much with the resources they have. It’s easier for the government to leave them to it and instead concentrate on those who are unemployed/on long-term sick but who want to get back into work and be a productive, contributing member of society in any way they can.

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