The Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM) has released the first in-depth study into the impact of ill health on the UK’s working population.
‘Understanding Recent Trends in Ill-Health Driven Fallout from the UK Job Market’ was launched following Occupational Health Awareness Week (18–24 September) and it analyses data trends, providing a comprehensive picture of the current health challenges experienced by the UK workforce.
It found that of the 41.6 million people in the UK of working age (aged 16–64), 2.5 million are economically inactive due to long-term sickness – a historically high number of people.
Additionally, more than 11 million people are living with long-term conditions that can affect their ability to work.
Of the four million people living with mental health conditions, only two million are employed. Nearly 60 per cent of people who are economically inactive and left work in the last two to three years have a work-limiting health condition.
The analysis demonstrated how occupation, gender, and disability affected getting back to work:
- Long-term sickness in women across all age groups has been rising since 2014, with women becoming economically inactive at a higher rate than men
- Economic inactivity increased in young men aged 16–24, with sharp rises in mental health issues
- Occupations with a low ability to work from home are more likely to see people leave the workforce due to long-term sickness.
The UK also has an ageing population, high rates of excess weight and alcohol consumption, and a legacy of smoking, resulting in long-term physical and mental health problems.
SOM is calling for comprehensive occupational health (OH) coverage, with only 50 per cent of workers currently accessing OH, and hopes that publishing this data will support policy conversations to achieve universal OH coverage.
SOM CEO Nick Pahl said: “This report helps us better understand the patterns and causes of ill health-driven fallout from the UK job market. It’s vital that we understand why the UK is seeing a rise in inactivity rates compared to other OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] countries.
“We need to understand what the catalysts are, the drivers of fallout, and what factors contribute to preventing people return to work.”