ONS reports 23% of 16 to 34 year-olds say they have five or more health conditions in 2023

According to the latest statistics released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the number of people economically inactive due to long-term sickness has risen to over 2.5m, which is 400k higher than before the Pandemic.

Related topics:  ONS,  long-term sickness
Tabitha Lambie | Editor, Protection Reporter
27th July 2023
young cancer patient
"Chronic health conditions are increasingly prevalent throughout the UK as those suffering from long-term conditions face difficulties accessing diagnoses and treatment."
- Brett Hill, Head of Health & Protection at Broadstone

On the 26th July, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported experimental statistics estimating the impact of different health conditions on the working-age population as well as the causes of economic inactivity. Overall, ONS reported that 36% of the working-age population said that they had at least one long-term health condition between January and March 2023, of which over 1.35m (53%) reported that they suffered from depression, bad nerves or anxiety. For the majority of those affected, these conditions were secondary to their main diagnosis.

Nearly two-fifths (38%) of those who were economically inactive reportedly had five or more health conditions that stopped them from working, suggesting that many were experiencing interlinked and complex health issues. For example, of those suffering from a musculoskeletal health condition, over 70% reported having more than one type of musculoskeletal condition.

Notably, 23% of those aged 16-34 years-old said they had five or more health conditions that eventually triggered a long-term absence from employment. This is a 6% increase since 2019.

Between 2016 and 2019, there was a small decline in the number of people who said they had no health conditions, decreasing from 71% to 69%. However, since 2020 this downward trajectory has accelerated with only 64% of working-age people having no health conditions in 2023. This is an absolute drop of 2m since 2019.

In May, the NHS referral for elective treatment waiting list in England reached 7.4m, up from 4.6m in January 2020. Worryingly, of those economically inactive (excluding retired), 42% said that waiting for NHS treatment had “strongly impacted” their lives, with 72% saying their wellbeing had been affected and almost half noticing diminished mobility.

Commenting on these statistics, Brett Hill, head of health & protection at Broadstone, has said:

“This deterioration of health is a major headwind for the UK economy as businesses battle a drain on staff and productivity. It means employers are ramping up their investment in healthcare options from Private Medical Insurance to the provision of greater support services like virtual GPs to keep their workforce healthy.

“While the government’s recent focus on ways to improve access to occupational health services is most welcome, Private Medical Insurance seems to be the elephant in the room when discussing ways of addressing sickness absence issues within the workforce.

“The government has rightly identified poor workplace health and long-term sickness as significant factors holding back the UK economy, but it needs to be bolder in encouraging employers to invest in the full range of healthcare options to keep their employees healthy and at work as we fight our national health crisis.”

Ian Ranger, head of claims and medical underwriting at Canada Life, added:

“Worryingly, there are now over 2.5m absences due to long-term sickness, an increase of over 400,000 since the start of the pandemic, with mental health issues and musculoskeletal conditions the main causes for economic inactivity.

“Although hybrid working has obvious benefits, we may now be seeing some of the more negative side effects. Since the pandemic, we’re moving and interacting less, and this, coupled with a cost-of-living crisis, means that maintaining our wellbeing (physical, mental, and financial) is a real challenge. 

“For many employers, remote working means it can be harder to detect signs of illness which leads to a risk of employees being signed off work for longer periods.”

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