Number of Britons off work due to long-term sickness hits record high – figures

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The number of Britons taking time off work due to long-term illness has reached a record high, latest official figures show, mounting pressure on the chancellor ahead of her “back-to-work budget” on Wednesday.

Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed 2.52 million people were out of work due to long-term illness in the three months to January – up 2.6% quarter-on-quarter and 7.9% year-on-year and 1993 Highest record since inception.

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The figures come as Chancellor Jeremy Hunt prepares to unveil his spring budget on Wednesday, which is expected to focus on getting people back into work to boost the flatlining economy.

Billing Mr Hunt in his “back-to-work budget”, the measures are expected to boost workforce participation targeting the over-50s, the chronically ill and disabled as well as benefits claimants.

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The elephant in the room is going to be the number of people who are unable to work because they are waiting for NHS treatment

Tackling economic idleness is a key component of Mr Hunt’s plans, as employment numbers have fallen well below their pre-pandemic levels, hurting Britain’s already struggling economy.

He is expected to announce on Wednesday an end to the system used to assess eligibility for sickness benefits.

According to the Treasury, the biggest reform to the welfare system in a decade will mean claimants can continue to receive payments after returning to employment.

The change will allow them to go back to work without fear of being reassessed and losing their benefits.

The process is expected to be replaced with one that asks claimants to demonstrate what jobs they might be able to take.

But the ONS data highlights the scale of the challenge facing the government.

The number of men out of work due to long-term illness rose 3.7% over the past three months to 1.17 million, while 1.35 million women were out of work due to long-term illness, up 1.7%.

The ONS said the number of people missing work due to temporary illness rose 4.5 per cent quarter-on-quarter.

Sarah Coles, head of personal finance at Hargreaves Lansdowne, said: “The fact that so many people are too sick to work has profound consequences for the job market.

“We know Jeremy Hunt’s budget this week will introduce tougher measures for those claiming benefits, and he is considering some changes to encourage more wellbeing at work.

“However, the elephant in the room is going to be the number of people who are unable to work because they are waiting for NHS treatment.”

Amanda Walters, director of the Safe Sick Pay campaign, said: “Help from the government to get people with long-term illness or disability back to work would be welcome, but people fear what could happen if they get sick again Will happen.

“Nearly a third of workers are in jobs that offer only £99.35 a week in sick pay. Two million get nothing from their employer.

“Cancer patients, people with chronic conditions or older workers coping with multiple conditions cannot – and will not – re-enter the job market when they know they will not have enough sick pay to survive.”

“Therefore it is necessary that the government should make sick pay available to all from the first day of illness. This should be the cornerstone of a back-to-work budget.

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