Sickness absence falls to the lowest rate on record

The latest figures for 2017 show that the average number of sickness absence days that UK workers take has almost halved since 1993.

The average number of sickness absence days that UK workers take has almost halved since records began in 1993, Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures have revealed1.The figures show that employees took an average of 4.1 sickness absence days in 2017, compared with 7.2 days in 1993, but sickness absence started to fall overall from 1999.

The proportion of working hours lost to sickness absence is known as the sickness absence rate.Since the economic downturn of 2008 sickness absence rates in the UK have fallen by 0.5 percentage points to 1.9 per cent in 2017.

Over the same period, in the private sector rates have decreased by 0.4 percentage points. In 2017, the rate stood at 1.7 per cent for the private sector and 2.6 per cent for the public sector. Public sector health workers had the highest rates at 3.3 per cent.

Rates may have decreased as healthy life expectancy has improved over time. Rates in the private sector could be lower as workers are less likely to be paid for a spell of sickness. There may also be an increase in presenteeism, where people go to work even though they are ill.

The TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said:

“It’s time to ditch the myth that UK workers are always throwing sickies. The reality is that people are more likely to go to work when ill than stay home when well.

“If someone is poorly, good employers will encourage them to rest up and get better. UK workers already put in billions of pounds worth of unpaid overtime every year. They shouldn’t have to battle through illness as well.”

The ONS said:

“Rates may have decreased as healthy life expectancy has improved over time. Rates in the private sector could be lower as workers are less likely to be paid for a spell of sickness. There may also be an increase in presenteeism, where people go to work even though they are ill.”


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