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Sickness absence falls

28 February 2014

131 million days were lost due to sickness absences in the UK in 2013, down from 178 million days in 1993, according to a new report from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) looking at sickness trends over the past 20 years.

Most of the fall in sickness absence was between 2003 and 2011. Looking at the number of days lost per worker, in 1993, around 7.2 days were lost and by 2013 this had fallen to 4.4 days.

The main cause for working days lost in 2013 was musculoskeletal conditions (such as back and neck pain), leading to 31 million days lost. The next most important cause was minor illnesses such as coughs and colds (27 million days lost), followed by stress, anxiety or depression, at 15 million days lost. 

For those aged 16 and over, men consistently had a lower sickness absence rate than women. In 2013 men lost around 1.6% of their hours due to sickness, a fall of 1.1 percentage points from 1993 when 2.7% of men’s hours were lost to sickness. Over the same period women have seen a reduction of their hours lost from 3.8% to 2.6%. Women and men work in different types of jobs and when controlling for these differences and other factors that influence sickness, women were 42% more likely to have a spell of sickness than men.

In 2013, the percentage of hours lost to sickness in the private sector was lower than in the public sector at 1.8% and 2.9% respectively. Within some of the larger public sector organisations, sickness absence rates were highest for those working in a Health Authority or NHS Trust (3.4%). When controlling for the different factors that influence sickness, public sector workers were 24% more likely to be off work due to sickness than those in the private sector.

Between October 2012 to September 2013, workers in London had the lowest percentage of hours lost to sickness, at 1.5%. This may be down to the fact that the London workforce when compared with other parts of the Great Britain has a younger work force and more self-employed people. The South East, with the second lowest percentage of hours lost at 1.8%, also has a higher than average percentage of self-employed workers and more private sector workers. The highest percentage of working hours lost to sickness was in the East Midlands, Wales and North East, at 2.4%. When taking into account the different workforce and jobs in each region there was no statistically significant difference in the sickness absence across the country.