UK workers lost a record number of days due to short-term sickness last year, according to data released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The figures show that economic output per hour worked in the final quarter of 2022 remained at zero annual growth, highlighting the challenges faced by the UK as it emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic. The ONS report also highlighted the long-term struggle with productivity that has adversely affected living standards for years.
The report detailed that the UK workforce lost 185.6 million days due to sickness or injury in 2022, which was higher than the number recorded during the pandemic itself. The record partly reflects the growth in Britain’s workforce over recent years but the sickness rate also represented the highest since 2004, with 2.6% of hours lost due to sickness or injury, up from 1.9% in 2019.
According to the ONS report, minor illnesses accounted for 29% of days lost to sickness, while respiratory conditions accounted for 8% of days lost. Furthermore, ‘other’ conditions, including COVID-19, diabetes, and other illnesses, increased from 14% to 24%. Sickness absence was most common among workers in the care sector and related personal services roles.
Moreover, a separate report released by the ONS showed that productivity at work remained weak. Output per hour worked was unchanged between the final quarters of 2021 and 2022, and since 2019, it has only risen by 2.1%. A weak outlook for productivity in the UK has been forecasted by the Bank of England, with output per hour worked set to increase by an average of 0.25% a year over the next three years.
The report also found an increase in long-term sickness among working-age people outside the job market. The number of people classed as ‘economically inactive’ due to long-term sickness in Q1 2023 surged to a record 28.7%, which is the highest since these records began in 1993.
The challenges facing the UK in productivity have been attributed to weak business investment, greater trade barriers due to Brexit, and deficiencies in employee and management skills. This report highlights the need to address these issues to boost productivity and support the UK economy for years to come.