New research from Aviva1 reveals that over half of UK workers (52%) would be unable to survive financially for more than three months if they were off work with an illness. Around a third (30%) say they’d survive for less than a month. Less than one in ten (9%) say they’d remain solvent for a year or more.

* 52% of UK workers could survive financially for only three months on statutory sick pay
* 23% would neglect their health; 12% would cut back on cigarettes or alcohol
* 14% say they’d have to move house if they were unable to work

Aviva’s research, conducted to highlight both employer and employee concerns about absence issues, uncovers a worrying protection gap. It also reveals that many people aren’t aware of the level of support they’d receive if they were unable to work due to illness – meaning that in reality, their finances may not stretch as far as they think.

While it’s reassuring to see that two in ten (19%) employees know how much Statutory Sick Pay they’d be entitled to, a quarter (26%) think they’d receive considerably more: 16% of respondents believe that they would be entitled to over twice as much benefit.

Worryingly, Aviva’s research reveals that if finances were tight, some people would neglect their health in favour of non-essentials. Nearly a quarter (23%) would put their health at risk – with 14% saying they’d miss important health checks and one in ten (9%) admitting they’d put up with health ailments. One in ten (12%) say they’d cut down on cigarettes or alcohol.
Nearly half (49%) say they’d eat cheaper supermarket offers and fast foods, while one in five would cut down on family holidays. A similar proportion (19%) say they’d use less heating/electricity.
Unsurprisingly nearly seven in ten (65%) workers cite financial concerns as the main reason to get back to work quickly if they are off sick. Regaining a sense of purpose (28%), getting well (21%) and providing for their families (16%) are also high priorities.

While the motivation to return to work is apparent, the research reveals that many workers are afraid of returning to the workplace after a long-term illness. A significant number of people (44%) fear that going back to work could cause a relapse of their condition and a quarter (24%) worry that they won’t be able to work to full capacity.

However, the research also highlights the simple steps employers can take to help their employees have the confidence to return to work. Just under a half (47%) of employees say that their fears would be allayed if they knew that the proper support was available and a quarter (24%) say they’d be happier if they knew that their boss would work with them to ease their return to work. One in ten (15%) say they’d like flexible working hours.
Employers are aware that finding a solution is important, with 25% agreeing that the rehabilitation process is vital. However there’s still work to be done to meet employees’ key concerns: only one in ten bosses say that they would consider how they could adapt the responsibilities of the worker to aid their return to work.
Steve Bridger, head of group risk, Aviva, UK Health says:

“It’s understandable that over eighty per cent of people think long-term sickness is something that happens to other people. However in reality you never know what’s around the corner and few people have the savings available to support themselves and their families for very long. Employment and Support Allowance can come to as little as £67.50 a week – even less than Statutory Sick Pay – which in many cases would hardly cover a family’s food shopping, let alone their mortgage and other necessary expenses.
“The good news is that group income protection can help employers address many of the issues identified in our research, and provide peace of mind to individuals who have enough to deal with when they are on the receiving end of unwelcome health news.”

Four fifths (80%) of respondents thought it was unlikely that they would actually have to deal with long term sickness, which perhaps accounts for their lack of preparation. Government figures show that over 2.1 million 18-64 year olds were claiming state benefit for incapacity in November 2009.