Sickness absence falls, but long-term absence increases

Posted 26 June 2014

Find out which debt solution is right for you

Get started

Answer a few simple questions

See if you are suitable

Understand your next steps

As short-term sickness absence falls, long-term absence has risen. But what is the true cost of time off through chronic illness?

The number of days taken off work due to illness by workers in the UK is at an all-time low, according to new research.


EEF, The Manufacturers’ Organisation, has released its annual Sickness Absence Survey, sponsored by Jelf. And according to the findings, overall sickness absence levels have fallen to 2.1%, which equates to just 4.9 days a year for each worker.

Rise in lengthy absences

However, while time off for short spells of illness has fallen; employers at the 330 businesses surveyed over the last two years reported that long-term absence has increased. Two-fifths of these employers revealed they had seen long-term absences go up over the past 24 months.


Among the conditions cited as reasons why workers have taken long-term absence were stress and mental health issues. Physical ailments such as musculoskeletal disorders were also listed.


Little sympathy

A recent survey* carried out on behalf of Debt Advisory Centre revealed that not everyone is sympathetic when it comes to workers having to take long periods of time away from work due to chronic … but often invisible … health issues. In fact, nearly one in four respondents admitted that they don’t think chronic illness is a legitimate reason to miss work.


Among the conditions people were asked to rate as being a genuine reason to stay at home were allergies, serious skin complaints, migraine, chronic fatigue syndrome/ME, inflammatory bowel disease and chronic joint or back pain. People with back pain received the most sympathy … but even then only half of respondents believed the complaint was a legitimate reason to call in sick.


Meanwhile, at the other end of the scale, just one in 20 people thought it was okay for someone to miss work because they had severe allergies such as contact dermatitis or hayfever. Just 17% of respondents felt a chronic skin complaint like urticaria, eczema or psoriasis was a good enough reason to call in sick, and only one in five thought a migraine was a legitimate motive for taking time off.


The true cost

Regardless of the attitudes of others, long-term absence due to chronic illness can have severe consequences for employees. To start with, they may not qualify for full pay for such a long period of time, and if their income falls their ability to make ends meet could be made incredibly difficult.


Then there are the financial commitments that come with long-term illness. The cost of forking out for regular prescriptions can soon mount up … although investing in a Prescription Prepayment Certificate could help curb this cost. Patients may also need to invest in other therapies, such as physiotherapy or counselling … and in some cases they may even need to buy equipment or have their homes modified to help them manage their condition.


Money worries

In a worst-case scenario, a patient’s physical health may lead to financial hardship, which could then add up to a problem debt. Suddenly an already difficult situation has become much worse.


If you’re worried that having to take so much time off work has harmed your finances, it’s important to seek help and not ignore the situation or it could become more serious. We can provide you with help and support, along with information on the different debt solutions that might be suitable … of which fees are payable for some. In certain cases, we might even be able to get your lenders to agree to freeze any charges or interest on your debts so they don’t grow any further.


When your health is suffering, the last thing you want is to be worrying about money as well. Get in touch and let’s see how we can help you.


*OnePoll questioned a nationally representative sample of 2,000 adults aged 18 and over between 2nd May and 12th May 2014, of whom 500 were Scottish residents. Figures have been extrapolated to fit ONS 2013 population projections of 50,371,000 UK adults.


by Shelley Bowers

Back to blog home

Did you find this useful? Share it with others!

To find other sources of free advice visit Money Helper. It’s here to listen and give free, impartial, trusted guidance. Based around you and backed by government.