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Video Summary: Sickness Absence in the Labour Market, April 2012

Released: 15 May 2012

This is a short video looking at sickness absence in the labour market.

Firstly we will look at sickness absence since 1993 using information from the UK Labour Force Survey.

 

This first line shows the total number of working days lost to sickness absence over the period using the left hand scale.

 

This next line shows the % of working hours lost to sickness over the same period using the right hand scale.

 

What we can see is that in 1993 around 178 million working days were lost to sickness and this equated to around 2.8 per cent of hours lost. Sickness is far less prevalent now that in the early 1990s, in 2011 around 131 million working days were lost, representing around 1.8 per cent of hours lost.

 

Another thing we can see is that between 1993 and 2003 the number of working days lost to sickness remained constant while over the same period there was a fall in the % of hours lost. This was because over the period there were increases in employment and hence more hours in total were worked in the UK. Comparing 1993 and 2011 we can see that there has been an increase of almost 4 million in the number of employed people.

 

Now looking at the reason for sickness we can see that of the 131 million days lost in 2011 the majority were lost to musculoskeletal problems, which includes back, neck and upper limb problems. The second highest number of days were lost to minor illnesses such as coughs and colds, however this was the most common reason given for sickness. The reason less days are lost compared to musculoskeletal problems though is that minor illnesses tend to be shorter in duration.

 

Looking at differences between men and women we can see that men have a lower percentage of hours lost to sickness than their female counterparts. In 1993 men lost around 2.5% per cent of their hours to sickness and women 3.3 per cent. Both sexes have seen a fall over the past 20 years and in 2011 around 1.5 per cent of hours were lost to sickness for men and 2.3 per cent of hours lost for women.

 

Now using this chart we will look at differences between the public and private sector, focusing first on differences in men and women. We can see that both the public sector bars are higher than the private sector and also as just shown women have a higher percentage of hours lost than men. Women in the public sector lost around 3.0 per cent of hours to sickness while men in the private sector lost around 1.5 per cent of their hours in 2011.

Overall, combining men and women, around 2.6 per cent of hours were lost in the public sector and 1.6 per cent lost in the private sector.

There are some important things to consider when interpreting these results.

• There are differences in the types of jobs between the sectors
• Women have higher sickness rates than men and the public sector has a higher percentage of women employed
• Someone is only classed as losing hours to sickness if they take time off and do not make up their hours at a later stage. It is possible that individuals in smaller firms, which are predominantly private sector are under more pressure to make up lost hours and therefore not lose any to sickness.
• Individuals in the private sector are more likely to not be paid for a spell of sickness.

Now looking at differences between age-groups we can see that as individuals get older they have a higher percentage of hours lost to sickness, peaking at 2.5 per cent for those aged 50 to 64. Those aged 65 and over have a lower percentage of hours lost to sickness as those with health problems are more likely to have left the labour market.

Looking at differences between the number of staff at the workplace, with this line here showing the 1.8 per cent average across the UK, we can see with these bars that the largest workforces have the highest percentage of hours lost to sickness and the smallest workforces the lowest percentage of hours lost.

Finally we will look at differences across the UK using this map. Splitting it up for the different regions across the UK. This key will show that the lighter the area the lower the percentage of hours that are lost in that area. Looking at the lowest part of the key first and colouring in the map we see that London has the lowest percentage of hours lost to sickness at 1.3 per cent. Now we will colour in the next lowest regions which are Northern Ireland and the South East. These regions being coloured in now all have a similar percentage lost of between 1.9 and 2.1 per cent. Finally the two regions with the highest percentage of hours lost are in the North East and Wales at 2.5 per cent.

Some of the reasons for these differences is the makeup of the labour force in the regions. The London workforce is younger on average, has a high proportion of self-employed people and private sector workers. These characteristics are associated with below-average sickness absence rates. Wales and the North East on the other hand have on average an older workforce with above-average proportions of 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.

The animated video with audio commentary shows:

  • How sickness absence has been falling over the past 20 years, from 178 million working days lost in 1993 to 131 million working days lost in 2011

  • The main reason for sickness was minor illnesses but the most working days were lost to muscoloskeletal problems

  • Women take on average more sickness absence than men but both have been falling over the past 20 years

  • Sickness is more prevalent in the public sector compared to the private sector and sickness increases with age

  • London has the lowest sickness rates while the North East and Wales the highest

Source: Office for National Statistics

Background notes

  1. Details of the policy governing the release of new data are available by visiting www.statisticsauthority.gov.uk/assessment/code-of-practice/index.html or from the Media Relations Office email: media.relations@ons.gsi.gov.uk

    These National Statistics are produced to high professional standards and released according to the arrangements approved by the UK Statistics Authority.

Content from the Office for National Statistics.
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