‘Long-term sickness the main reason for women being economically inactive’

Women account for 59% of the rise in economic inactivity due to long-term sickness in the past five years, according to new TUC analysis.

Doctor and patient

 

Long-term sickness has become the top reason for women being out of the labour market, according to new TUC analysis of official statistics.

It shows that the number of women who are now economically inactive due to long-term sickness has increased by 503,000 (+48%) over the last five years to 1.54 million – the highest number since records began.

Economic inactivity due to long-term sickness has risen steeply for both men and women over the past five years, but women have been worse affected – with the number of men inactive due to long-term sickness rising by 37%.

This means that women account for 59% of the rise in economic inactivity due to long-term sickness over the past five years.

One of the big long-term health issues in women is the rise of musculoskeletal issues (arms, hands, legs, feet, back and neck problems) – up by 47%. Long-term illness due to mental illness such as depression and anxiety is up 27%, while absence due to conditions like cancer is up 15%. The largest increase was in the “other” category, which saw a rise of 138%.

The TUC said the sharp rise in long-term sickness was due to a combination of factors, including long NHS waiting lists and cuts to preventative services. In terms of community health services, TUC analysis shows that between October 2022 and March 2024, for instance, there has been a 15% increase in adults waiting for musculoskeletal care and a 25% increase in adults waiting for physiotherapy.

The TUC adds that another key factor in the rise in long-term sickness among women is job quality. Women, particularly BME women, are more likely to be in insecure work and on low pay, with BME women twice as likely to be on zero-hour contracts than white men.

TUC General Secretary Paul Nowak said the Government should focus on healthcare rather than cutting benefits for sick people.  “We need a proper plan for dealing with the sharp rise in long-term sickness – not cynical gimmicks,” he said.

“Instead of stigmatising people who are too ill to work, the government should be laser-focused on improving access to treatment and preventing people from becoming too sick to work in the first place.

“That means investing in local preventive services and bringing down our sky-high waiting lists.

“It means dealing with the chronic staffing shortages across the NHS and social care that are delaying patients from being seen when they need to.

“And it means improving the quality of work in this country – so that women are not disproportionately trapped in low-paid, insecure jobs.

“But instead the government is failing growing numbers of women who are unable to work because they can’t access the right treatment or support.”

Meanwhile, a new study suggests workers are less likely to move jobs due to the current economic uncertainty. The study by the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development [CIPD] shows lower staff attrition and fewer job moves this year. The quarterly survey, based on responses from more than 2,000 businesses, shows that just 30% expected to increase their staff numbers over the summer, the smallest proportion since early 2021. The report also shows that public sector employers are twice as likely as private companies to cut jobs over the next three months. James Cockett, labour market economist at the CIPD, said: “The so-called Great Resignation is well and truly over and has been replaced by the Big Stay, with more people opting for job stability.”



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