Government is ‘asleep at the wheel’ TUC warns as absences from long-term sickness surge

Ill-health at work, stress and depression have reached “epidemic levels

26 Jul 2023| News

The government is “asleep at the wheel,” the TUC warned, as latest figures revealed that the number of people economically inactive due to long-term sickness has surged since the pandemic.

Ill-health at work, stress and depression have reached “epidemic levels,” the union body said after latest data by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) shows a rise of 400,000 people out of work since Covid-19 hit.

The number of people in Britain classes as economically inactive has grown to more than 2.5 million, according to the ONS.

Mental health issues and musculoskeletal conditions were listed as the main causes with over 1.35m people reporting depression, bad nerves or anxiety in the first quarter of the year.

Problems with legs or feet grew by 29 per cent to 1.08m people since 2019, while problems with the back or neck increased by 28 per cent.

Overall, 38 per cent of those economically inactive reported having five or more health conditions, up from 34 per cent in 2019.

The ONS said the figures suggests that many of those out of work have interlinked and complex health issues.

It follows TUC research revealing that one in two workers feel their jobs are become more intense and demanding, with three in five reporting feeling exhausted at the end of most working days.

TUC general secretary Paul Nowak said that it was “time for action on what is forcing people out of the labour market.”

He said:

“Ministers are asleep at the wheel as ill-health and work-related stress reach epidemic levels.

The government must fix the crisis in our NHS that leaves millions waiting months or even years for treatment.

They must support people with long Covid and make sure every disabled worker gets the reasonable adjustments they need.

And they must make sure every job is a good job. That means workers having stronger rights to retrain and work flexibly so that more can stay in work.”

Mr Nowak said that bosses must also do more to reduce the causes of stress at work and support workers struggling to cope.

“This means tackling issues like excessive workloads and workplace bullying. Toxic workplaces are bad for staff and for productivity,” he said.

“My advice to anyone experiencing stress, anxiety and depression at work is to join a union.”

This article was first published in the Morning Star