Official statistics show a record number of UK residents unable to work owing to long-term illness.
According to the Office of National Statistics, more than 2.5 million were unemployed due to health issues.
Youth mental health concerns and back and neck discomfort increased, potentially due to home-based employment, according to the ONS.
The ONS data also revealed that the squeeze on pay persists, with wage increases failing to maintain pace with inflation.
However, public sector pay is increasing at its highest rate in roughly twenty years.
The ONS reported that the employment rate increased in the first three months of the year due to an increase in part-time and self-employed workers, while the number of job openings declined again.
Darren Morgan, director of economic statistics at the ONS, stated on the BBC’s Today program that since the Covid pandemic began, there are “well over 400,000 more people outside of the labor market due to ill health, bringing us to a new record level of comfortably over 2.5 million.”
He added that there has been an increase in “conditions related to mental health, particularly among the young”. There was also an increase in the number of individuals “with musculoskeletal issues. Such as back and neck problems, with some theories attributing that to the rise in home-based employment.”
“We’ve also seen an increase in the category that includes post-viral fatigue, so perhaps long-term Covid is having an impact.”
2.55 million individuals are classified as long-term unwell, compared to 33 million who are currently employed. This means that for every 13 people who are currently employed, one is long-term ill.
The ONS revealed that part-time and self-employed workers boosted employment to 75.9% and unemployment to 3.9% between January and March.
The ONS reports that the number of unemployed has continued to fall.
The pandemic caused millions of workers to stop working, hurting the UK’s economy.
Getting these individuals back to work is a critical part of the government’s plan to get the economy growing again, and address the shortage of workers that has affected many sectors of the economy.
The latest figures indicate mixed progress on this front. Significant numbers of students, carers, and even some retired people have begun looking for work again, pushing the inactivity rate – the key measure of people not in work – down to 21%.
However, the rise in the number of individuals too ill to work is likely to worry policymakers.
“These figures show some gentle progress on bringing people back to the labor market,” said Neil Carberry, chief executive at the Recruitment and Employment Confederation.
“But we should be concerned by the high number of people who are economically inactive because they are ill, and progress on tackling inactivity overall is too slow.
Since the ONS reported on high unemployment, labor shortages, and high inflation a year ago, too little has changed. This is holding back the economy by limiting the growth potential of businesses.”
Over one million job opportunities remain, despite a recent decline.
In response to the most recent data, the Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, stated, “It’s encouraging that the unemployment rate has remained historically low, but many families and businesses are concerned about the difficulty in finding staff and rising prices.”
Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow work and pensions secretary, argued that the government was a “drag” on the economy because family finances were “being squeezed to the breaking point by a further fall in real wages” and fewer people were in the workforce than before the pandemic.