The number of people in the UK not working because of long-term sickness has risen to a record high partly because of ongoing health problems related to the coronavirus pandemic, official figures showed Tuesday.
The Office for National Statistics found that 2.55 million people were not able to work in the three months to March, which is over 6% of the country’s working population. That was up nearly 100,000 on the previous quarter.
The agency said the pandemic is likely to be one of the main causes for the increase in the number of long-term sick over the past three years or so, including those suffering from long COVID symptoms such as post-viral fatigue. Many young people have also been unable to work because of mental health issues while those suffering from head and neck problems has potentially grown because of the increase in home-working since the coronavirus pandemic. There’s also a backlog of care following the pandemic that will take time to clear.
“This is now comfortably the largest number of people out of the labor market due to long-term health problems that we have ever seen,” said Tony Wilson, director of the Institute for Employment Studies.
The monthly labor market figures from the Office for National Statistics, found that unemployment in Britain rose modestly to 3.9% in March from 3.8% the previous month, while vacancies fell to their lowest level for 18 months amid the economic uncertainty of high inflation and rising interest rates.
The Bank of England last week raised its benchmark rate for the 12th time in a row to 4.5%, its highest level since 2008. Many economists are cautioning the bank to pause so it doesn’t inadvertently push the British economy into recession.
“How this affects unemployment and pay growth levels in the months ahead will be weighing on policymakers minds,” said Hannah Slaughter, senior economist at the Resolution Foundation.
The figures also showed living standards continue to be squeezed as wages are still failing to keep pace with rising prices. Once the current inflation rate around 10% is is taken into account, real pay excluding bonuses was down 3.1%.