Sickness absences in the UK at lowest level since 1993

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The Office for National statistics (ONS) released its Labour Force Survey on Tuesday, which revealed that fewer working days are being lost to sickness absence in the UK, compared to two decades ago.

According to the survey, 131 million days were lost due to sickness absences in 2013, a drop from 178 million days in 1993. Most of the decrease in sickness absence was between 2003 and 2011. The number of days lost for each worker amounted to 7.2 days in 1993; however this had dropped to 4.4 days by 2013.

Musculoskeletal conditions such as back and neck pain were the main cause for working days lost in 2013 and resulted to 31 million days lost. Minor illnesses such as coughs and colds caused 27 million days to be lost, while 15 million days were lost because of stress, anxiety or depression.

The Labour Force Survey revealed that in workers aged 16 and over, men consistently had a lower sickness absence rate than women. The data showed that men lost around 1.6% of their hours due to sickness in 2013, a drop of 1.1 percentage points compared to 2.7% of men’s hours lost to sickness in 1993. There was also a reduction of women’s hours lost over the same period, dropping from 3.8% to 2.6%. The ONS figures show that because of the different types of jobs they do, along with other factors, women were 42% more likely to take sick leave compared to men.

During 2013, the percentage of hours lost to sickness was 1.8% in the private sector, compared to a higher figure in the public sector of 2.9%. In some of the larger public sector organisations, sickness absence rates were highest for Health Authority or NHS Trust workers at 3.4%. When taking into account the different factors that influence sickness, public sector workers were 24% more likely to be off work due to sickness, compared to those in the private sector.

London workers lost 1.5% of hours to sickness from October 2012 to September 2013, the lowest percentage recorded. This figure could be influenced by the fact that workforce in London is younger compared with other parts of the UK and also includes more self-employed people. The South East lost 1.8% of hours last year, the second lowest percentage. This area also has a higher than average percentage of self-employed workers and more private sector workers.

The East Midlands, Wales and the North East, had the highest percentages of working hours lost to sickness, at 2.4%. There was no statistically significant difference in the sickness absence rates when the different workforce and jobs in each region were taken into account.

ONS statistician Jamie Jenkins stated: “On average workers had 4.4 days off due to sickness absence in 2013, down from 7.2 days in 1993. Sickness has generally been falling over the 20 year period, but since 2011 the fall appears to have levelled off with very little change over the past two years”.

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