UK workers take fewest sick days since records began

'it is a myth that UK workers are always throwing sickies. We're really a nation of mucus troopers', said TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady

Ben Chapman
Thursday 09 March 2017 17:27
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Around 137 million working days were lost from injuries and illnesses - considerably down from a peak of 185 million in 1999
Around 137 million working days were lost from injuries and illnesses - considerably down from a peak of 185 million in 1999

UK workers took fewer sick days in 2016 than at any time since comparable records began almost 25 years ago. Days lost through illness fell to just 4.3 per worker last year, compared to 7.2 days in 1993, the Office of National Statistics revealed.

Around 137 million working days were lost from injuries and illnesses - considerably down from a peak of 185 million in 1999, despite an increase in the number of people in the workforce since then.

Minor illnesses such as coughs and colds were the most common reason for missing work last year, accounting for a quarter of days off for sickness, followed by musculoskeletal problems like back and neck pain.

Mental health issues including stress, depression, anxiety and serious conditions such as schizophrenia resulted in 15.8 million days lost - 11.5 per cent of the total.

People in Wales and Scotland took the most time off for illness, while those in London in London and the South East took the fewest, the ONS found.

TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said the fall in the sickness rate showed that “it is a myth that UK workers are always throwing sickies”.

She said: “We are really a nation of mucus troopers, with people more likely to go to work when ill than stay at home when well.

“Sickness absence rates have fallen steadily over the past decade, and let’s not forget that working people put in billions of pounds’ worth of unpaid overtime each year.

Nathan Long, senior pension Analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown said the reduction was due to welcomed improvements in healthcare but warned the numbers provide “clues to a more challenging future”.

“Both older and part-time workers have a greater proportion of days absent through sickness. As State Pension Age rises we will be working longer.”

An increasing trend towards older people working part-time while semi-retiring means employers may have to plan for rising numbers of days off in future years, Mr Long said.

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