Around 185.6 million working days were lost due to sickness or injury in 2022, new data from the Office for National Statistics has revealed.
The numbers are the highest on record and a huge increase from the 138.2 million reported pre-Covid in 2019.
While sickness absences increased among all age groups last year, the figures showed that the rates were higher for women, older employers and people with long-term health conditions, with the latter group recording 104.9 million lost working days.
Brett Hill, head of health and protection at leading independent consultancy Broadstone, said: “After years of improving health in the workplace, sick days surged to a record high last year in concerning facts which should raise huge red flags for employers up and down the country.
“The rapidly declining health of the nation’s workers will have a devastating impact on productivity. Bosses should brace for an acceleration of this trend in 2023 given the current crisis in the NHS with patients struggling to access appointments and treatment in good time. It is particularly worrying to see the record absences from those with longer-term health conditions as the evidence shows those who are off sick for extended periods often struggle to return to the workplace, resulting in permanent loss to the UK workforce.”
Explaining that more businesses are recognising the importance of protecting the health of their employees now they are unable to rely on the NHS, he added: “Putting in place services like digital GP appointments or private healthcare options for their staff will be vital in avoiding absenteeism, maintaining productivity levels and thriving.”
Meanwhile, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) highlighted that the figures don’t show the number of people who have little choice but to work when ill.
General secretary Paul Nowak said: “This includes low-paid workers excluded from sick pay entitlement and those who can’t get by on just £110 a week – the miserly rate for statutory sick pay.
“Minister must fix our broken sick pay system. Every worker should qualify from day one of sickness, paid at a decent living wage.”
The TUC is calling for reforms to sick pay, including Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) entitlement from day one of illness, the SSP rate to increase to match the real Living Wage as a minimum, equating to at least £381.50 for a 35-hour week, and the removal of the Lower Earnings Limit to make 1.5 million low earners eligible for SSP.