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Sickness absence on the rise

25 January 2013

Instances of sickness absence have increased, according to the Office of National Statistics, after falling as the recession bit last year.

Instances of sickness absence have increased, according to the Office of National Statistics, after falling as the recession bit last year.

In the first quarter of 2009, 2.1 per cent of employees had a spell of sickness absence, down from 2.5 per cent before the start of the recession.

However, in the final quarter of 2010, the percentage of employees having a spell of sickness absence had returned to 2.5 per cent. Taking a weekly average, this equates to around 613,000 employees absent from work and 2 million working days lost.

Commenting on the figures, EEF head of Health & Safety Policy Steve Pointer, said: "These figures illustrate that Sickness Absence remains a significant issue for businesses. As well as costing business around £15bn a year with the cost to taxpayers being several times this these costs reduce competitiveness and hamper growth.

"Last week's announcement of an independent review is a welcome sign that the coalition is taking this issue seriously. We now need to build on this by moving rapidly to delivering change that reduces the cost to business and supports much-needed growth. EEF surveys consistently show time is lost waiting for tests, operations and therapies which are a major barrier to rehabilitation and cause of long term sickness. Small business in particular need help."

Sickness absence was consistently higher for women than for men over the last decade. In the final quarter of 2010:

- 2.9 per cent (349,000) of all female employees were absent from work.
- 2.1 per cent (264,000) of all male employees were absent from work.

Of all employees who took at least one day off work in 2010, around a third stated that a minor illness (cough, cold, flu, sickness, diarrhoea) was the cause of their absence.

Excluding those illnesses grouped as 'other', of the remaining reasons, a slight difference emerges between men and women. For men, the top reason was musculoskeletal problems followed by back pain. While for women, the top reason was stress, depression and anxiety followed by musculoskeletal problems.

While overall sickness absence had fallen over the last decade, it remained higher in the public sector than in the private sector.

In the final quarter of 2010, 3.1 per cent of public sector employees were absent from work, compared with only 2.3 per cent of private sector employees. The gap between the two sectors was at its widest in the final quarter of 2008.

Sickness is higher in the public sector and this sector employs a higher proportion of women than men. Also women have higher sickness rates so putting the two together and taking an average over the four quarters of 2010:

- Women have higher sickness absence rates in both the public sector (3.1 per cent) and private sector (2.6 per cent), compared to men
- Men have slightly higher sickness absence rates in the public sector (2.1 per cent) compared to the private sector (2.0 per cent)

Also over the four quarters of 2010:


Sickness absence was highest among the personal service occupations and the sales and customer service occupations, at 3.1 per cent and 2.9 per cent respectively. The lowest rate was in managers and senior officials at 1.7 per cent.

The North East, the North West and the East of England had the highest rates of sickness absence, all at 2.6 per cent. Northern Ireland had the lowest rate of sickness absence at 1.2 per cent and has consistently been the lowest region over the last decade.

Employees aged 50-64 had the highest sickness absence rate at 2.6 per cent compared with all other age groups:
2.3 per cent for the 16-24 year olds, 2.4 per cent for the 25-34 year olds and 2.4 per cent for the 35-49 year olds. Women consistently had higher sickness absence across all age groups.

Over the last decade, sickness absence was on average 27 per cent higher during October to March (covering the winter months) than in April to September (covering the summer months).
 
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