Workers in the South West took nearly 13million days off due to sickness last year – and the number is increasing as mental health issues take their toll.
Latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that in 2018, 12.5million working days were lost because of sickness or injury in the region.
That’s an average of 4.5 days per worker, above the national rate of 4.4 days each. The number of days lost has increased compared to 2017, when 11.1 million days were lost.
Nationally, the ONS estimates that 141.4million working days were lost because of sickness or injury in the UK in 2018. That was up from 131.5million in 2017.
Despite the increase in the number of days lost between 2017 and 2018, the sickness absence rate – the percentage of working hours lost – was relatively flat between 2010 and 2018 and stood at 2.0% in 2018.
According to the ONS, the number of working days lost because of sickness or injury generally declined through the 2000s.
In 2017, it reached the lowest level since records began in 1997, when 131.5million working days were lost, equivalent to 4.1 days per worker.
Minor illnesses were the most common reason for sickness absence in 2018, accounting for 27.2% of the total days lost to sickness (38.5 million days).
This was followed by musculoskeletal problems, at 19.7% (27.8 million days), then other conditions, including accidents, poisonings and diabetes, at 13.7% (19.4 million days).
Mental health conditions were the next most common reason for absence, accounting for 12.4% of lost days (17.5 million days), meaning that one in eight days was lost due to mental health problems.
The proportion of days lost to mental health conditions is growing – up from 11.4% in 2017 and 9% in 2009.
That is happening while the Government has cut in real terms the amount spent on mental health. According to Full Fact, a charity specialising in fact-checking, compared to 2017/18, the amount of planned spending on mental health services within the NHS in 2018/19 has gone down by around £34million in real terms.
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Tom Hadley, from the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, said: “Sickness absence is part of everyday life. But when you consider the cost to businesses, it makes sense for employers to think about what they can do to help.
“Many employers are taking the right steps, but there is clearly more that can be done. Helping people into fulfilling work, in roles that suit their health and abilities is fundamental. The UK’s recruitment industry helps millions of people do just this every year.
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“A lack of understanding is one of the biggest issues when it comes to managing sickness absence, particularly around mental health.
“Juggling work and life can be a source of stress – so offering flexible hours is an example of one way to help.
“New REC research this month will show that more people are looking for flexibility in work. They want jobs that let them have a better work-life balance, look after children, and pursue the hobbies that make them happier. Supporting this flexibility is not only good for workers, but it’s also good for business.”
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