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11 October 2022

Inactivity due to sickness has reached a record high in the UK

There are now almost 2.5 million people out of work due to long-term illness.

The number of people in the UK out of work due to a long-term illness reached a record high of almost 2.5 million in July, according to figures released today (11 October) by the Office for National Statistics.

The proportion of people who were economically inactive – those not working or looking for work – rose by 0.6 percentage points to 21.7 percent in the last quarter, driven, according to the ONS, by long-term sickness and students. Almost nine million people in the UK were economically inactive.

The fall in people looking for work has helped to push the UK’s unemployment rate to its lowest level since 1974, with just 3.5 per cent of people jobless in the three months to August.

The UK was not the only wealthy country where there was a rise in economic inactivity coinciding with the Covid-19 pandemic. In other countries working-age people left the labour force to take care of dependants, to recover from illness or to return to education. Yet, while the economic inactivity level has since fallen elsewhere, it continues to rise in the UK. Long-term pressures on the NHS are among potential contributory factors.

Despite falling for a third consecutive quarter, job vacancies in the UK remain at historically high levels, potentially jeopardising the government’s economic growth plan.

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