MORE than 2.5 million people are off work due to ill health, according to new figures.
The latest employment figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that 1 in 13 people currently working was on long-term sick leave.
Darren Morgan, director of economic statistics at the ONS, told the BBC Today programme the number of people on long-term sick leave had risen by ‘well over 400,000’ since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Long Covid could be a factor, he said, as well as common conditions such as mental health problems and back and neck pain.
Meanwhile the new data, covering the first three months of the year, showed wage increases continuing to lag behind inflation.
With price rises taken into account, the ONS numbers showed regular pay fell by 2%.
The employment rate edged higher, to 75.9%, while the unemployment rate also rose, to 3.9%.
And the number of vacancies fell once again, although around a million roles remain unfilled, according to the data.
Economic performance was also hindred by strike action, the report said, with the number of working days lost due to industrial action reaching 556,000 in March.
It came as that month saw walkouts in industries including rail, the NHS and education.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said: “It’s encouraging the unemployment rate remains historically low, but difficulty in finding staff and rising prices are a worry for many families and business.”
The shadow work and pensions secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, said family finances were ‘being squeezed to breaking point by a further fall in real wages’, with fewer people in employment than before the pandemic an indication of the Government being a ‘drag’ on the economy.
To see the ONS data, log on to www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/employmentandemployeetypes/bulletins/uklabourmarket/previousReleases