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Number of people not working due to long-term sickness reaches record high

Vicky Walker, Director of People - Westfield Health

“If you look at the big picture, right now in the UK, there are over 2.5 million people out of work due to long-term sickness. That is extremely worrying. Equally worrying is the fact that this number only seems to be growing, largely driven by those in the 50-64 age group. From May-July this year, a record 491,433 people became economically inactive due to long-term sickness – a 1265% increase on 2020 levels.

Part of the reason why these numbers are so high is down to the mental health pandemic we’re facing as a nation. Over half (53%) of those who were economically inactive in Q1 2023 due to long-term sickness had depression or anxiety. And with NHS waiting lists for mental health services as long as they are, many of these people are having to wait months, even years, before they get the help that they need.

So how do we help these people and get people back into work? Well, as is often the case when it comes to health, prevention is better than cure. Supporting people before they leave the workforce is key to bringing down rates of economic activity. This means investing in structured occupational health and workplace wellbeing programmes that are tailored to the needs of your people.

Your employees’ physical and mental health should be at the top of your priority list – not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it makes good business sense. Our mental health at work report found that two-fifths (40%) of employees took time off due to mental ill health in 2022, costing around £18 billion to the UK economy. Access to mental health first aid and wellbeing workshops can provide a vital safety net for those who need it, while health cash plans can provide a cost-effective way to see medical and mental health practitioners without the expense or long waiting times.

By ensuring the proper support frameworks are in place and driving this from the top down, HR managers can work to reduce the number of mental health sick days and create a happier, healthier and more productive workforce.”

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