Why so terrible sickness rates in the UK are bad for the economy

EAsyJet removes seats from its aircraft, Tui no longer serves food on flights, and bus companies limit services. From the headlines, Britain seems to have a big problem with absenteeism because Covid is contributing to staff shortages throughout the economy.

But apart from these incidents, the overall picture is very different. With low sickness benefits – now back to pre-Covid level, despite Boris Johnson’s promise to “stand up again” out of a medical emergency – Britain is one of the fewest working days lost due to illness in the developed world.

The absence of disease increased last year when the economy reopened, from a record low in 2020, when the pandemic reduced socialization and people could continue to log in from home despite the disease. However, despite an increase from 3.6 to 4.6 days a year, the average number of days lost due to illness is steadily declining – from seven days a year in the mid – 1990s. Even with Covid and a larger workforce, almost 36 million fewer working days were lost in 2021 compared to a fifth, down from 149.3 million.

Critics say the government missed a unique opportunity to strengthen workers’ rights in the Queen’s speech last week and that Johnson’s side ran out of ideas to address the cost-of-living crisis. After his election slump in 2019, he promised an employment law, but he did not take any action to the dismay of unions and employers’ groups last week.

morbidity rate in the United Kingdom

“If the period after the pandemic, when the inadequacy of the system was thrown into sharp relief, isn’t the right time when it is?” said Rachel Suff, a policy adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). A survey of 6,000 workers by the trade union body found that almost half of the employees had gone to work in the last three months, even though they did not feel well enough to perform their duties. The CIPD says setting sickness benefits should be a top priority for both workers and employers. Suff said: “Absence data obscure the true picture of the working age population.”

Illness rates in Britain are less than half the European average and are close to those in developing countries such as Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Employment experts say the reason is sick leave, where the United Kingdom is also at the bottom of the global league tables.

occupational disease

The statutory sickness benefit (SSP) is GBP 99.35 per week and is paid by employers for up to 28 weeks. At the beginning of the Covid pandemic, the government took effect from the first day of the illness, but in February switched back to payout from the fourth day. This is one of the lowest rates in the OECD group of rich economies. According to the TUC, sickness benefits cover only 19% of the average wage in the United Kingdom. Rates are higher in Spain (42%), Sweden (64%) and Belgium (93%), while support is worse only in South Korea and the US, where workers are not legally entitled to sickness benefits. Germans receive full pay for sick pay for six weeks, then 70% for up to 78 weeks.

The British government said international comparisons were difficult to make due to differences in each country’s system, and said it had improved the process in Britain by replacing legally valid digital “fit notes” with handwritten: “How we learn to live with Covid-19,” We are still checking the SSP system. “

Cary Cooper, a professor of organizational psychology and health at Manchester Business School, said the poor sick and precarious economic situation was forcing people to continue working even when they were ill: protection than other countries.

int comp sick rates

A leading American-born psychologist who introduced the term “presentation” in the 1980s to describe the need to be at work, although not fully functional, said an inadequate safety net was short-sighted and poor for productivity. “My opinion is that the more you treat people the right, the more you respect and trust them, you protect them and give them some security – not 100%, but some – the more you get.”

Experts warn that there are gaping holes in the system. Neither the UK’s 4 million self-employed workers nor those who earn less than £ 123 a week are eligible. As many as 2 million fall into the second category, 70% of whom are women.

Some employers offer sickness benefit schemes, but their prevalence has dropped dramatically since the introduction of the SSP during Thatcher’s first government. In the early 1980s, 90% of employers offered this benefit, but after decades of decline, the Ministry of Labor and Pensions in 2014 estimated that 26% of workers relied solely on SSPs, while 17% did not. know what they are entitled to.

sickness coverage rates

Occupational systems are concentrated in higher-paid sectors, leaving factory and retail workers and carers – among those most likely to be entitled to SSPs – at the mercy of insufficient state support. With better paid workers in the services sector still working at least in part from home – a factor that reduced absenteeism in 2020 – critics warn that there is a two-tier view of good health at work. “This is a class matter,” says Kate Bell, head of economics and law at TUC.

In real terms, the SSP rate is lower today than it was when it was launched in 1982. Trade unions and trading groups say it needs to be brought closer to the real living wage of £ 9.90 per hour and £ 11.05 in London – the equivalent of £ 361.35. and £ 403.33 per average working week.

“No one should choose between putting food on the table or doing the right thing and staying home when he’s sick, but that’s exactly what millions of rural workers face,” Bell said. “Over and over again, we have warned ministers that sick pay is not enough. It is reckless and counterproductive for ministers not to correct our dysfunctional sickness benefit system. Enough is enough. “

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