131 million days were lost due to sickness absences in the UK in 2011, down from 178 million days in 1993.
In 2011, around 131 million days were lost through absences due to sickness or injury, a fall of around 26 per cent since 1993 where 178 million days were lost (these figures include employees and self-employed, aged 16+, across the whole of the UK).
The number of days lost through sickness absences remained constant through the 1990’s until 2003 and has fallen since then. Over the same period, the percentage of people having a spell of sickness and hence the percentage of working hours lost has been falling. The reason the number of days lost remained constant between 1993 and 2003, when the percentage of hours lost were falling over this period, was because there were more people entering employment during this time.
Looking at the number of days lost per worker, in 1993, around 7.2 days were lost (or around a week and a half based on a 5 day week). By 2011 this had fallen to less than a week (or 4.5 days).
The most common reason given for sickness in 2011 was minor illnesses such as coughs, colds and flu. This type of illness tends to have short durations and the greatest number of days lost were actually due to musculoskeletal problems. This accounted for just over a quarter of all days lost or 35 million days. Around 27.4 million days were lost due to minor illnesses and 13.3 million days were lost to stress, depression and anxiety.
Sickness higher for women and older workers
Women have consistently higher sickness absence rates than men but both sexes have seen a fall over the past 20 years. Men have gone from losing around 2.5 per cent of their hours due to sickness in 1993 to around 1.5 per cent in 2011. Over the same period women have seen a reduction from 3.3 per cent to 2.3 per cent.
People are generally more likely to develop health problems at older ages and sickness absence rates also increase with age. For workers aged between 16 and 34 around 1.5 per cent of hours were lost to sickness in 2011 compared with around 2.5 per cent of hours lost for workers aged 50 to 64. Workers aged 65+ lose a lower percentage of hours to sickness because those with health problems are more likely to have left the labour market.
Lower sickness for the private sector and self-employed
The percentage of hours lost to sickness in the private sector is lower than in the public sector, 1.6 per cent and 2.6 per cent respectively. There are a number of things to consider when interpreting these differences such as:
- There are differences in the types of jobs between the two sectors and some sectors have higher likelihoods of sickness than others.
- On average, women have more sickness absence than men and the public sector employs a higher proportion of female workers.
- The analysis only counts someone as sick if they work fewer hours than contracted for. It would exclude someone who is sick and makes up for the lost hours at a later point in the week. It is possible that individuals in smaller workforces are under more pressure to make up any lost hours and these workforces are more prominent in the private sector.
- Individuals within the private sector are also more likely to not be paid for a spell of sickness than individuals within the public sector.
Looking at differences between men and women in the two sectors, women in the public sector lost the highest percentage of their hours in 2011 at 3.0 per cent. Men in the private sector lost the fewest at 1.5 per cent.
Self-employed people, at 1.2 per cent of working hours lost, took less sickness than employees in 2011 (1.9 per cent of working hours lost). Self-employed people do not generally have the same sick-leave cover as employees do and would therefore have more incentive to make up any hours lost due to sickness. Also self-employed individuals are more likely to lose out financially if they lose working hours.
Largest workforces report highest sickness levels
Workers in organisations with more than 500 employees had the highest percentage of working hours lost in 2011, at 2.3 per cent. Those working in firms sized 25 to 49 and 50 to 499 lost a similar percentage of hours (2.1 and 2.0 per cent respectively) and the smallest firms had the lowest percentage of hours lost at 1.5 per cent. Sickness absences in small workplaces may be less common as workers do not feel able to take time off due to work commitments and not having colleagues to cover their work.
Sickness lowest in London
Workers in London had the lowest percentage of hours lost to sickness, at 1.3 per cent. The highest percentage lost was in the North East and Wales, both at 2.5 per cent. There may be a variety of factors to explain these differences. The London workforce is made up of a much younger demographic (aged 25-49), has a higher proportion of self-employed people and more private sector workers. These characteristics are associated with lower than average sickness absence rates. Wales and the North East on the other hand have on average an older workforce, more public sector workers (especially female public sector workers) and the North East has by far the highest proportion of employees. These characteristics are associated with higher than average sickness absence rates. Northern Ireland also has a younger work force than average and more self-employed people than average. The types of occupations and industries also vary across the country.
Looking at sickness across different occupations, those working in ‘Caring, leisure and other service occupations’ lost the highest percentage of hours in 2011, at 2.7 per cent. This is more than double the percentage of hours lost for ‘Managers, directors and senior officials’ which stood at 1.1 per cent.
- The main analysis uses the quarterly LFS datasets to generate annual averages
- The regional analysis uses the October 2010 to September 2011 APS dataset
- The APS data gives more robust estimates but the LFS data was used for the main analysis as it is timelier and would allow analysis of a time series back to 1993. The APS could only go back to 2004
- A day is defined here as 7 hours and 30 minutes
- The sickness absence rate is the percentage of usual hours lost due to sickness absences
- The LFS variables used to calculate sickness absence levels and rates are YLESS6, TTACHR and TTUSHR
- The LFS variables ILLNE11 and ILLFST11 are used to look at the type of sickness/injury causing the absence
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