The Health Foundation has revealed a startling epidemic of illness plaguing the UK’s working-age group, prompting the Office for National Statistics to express concern over the rising numbers exiting the job market due to poor health. Concurrently, the government is taking steps to mitigate what it deems a “sick note” culture.

The investigation highlights that a staggering one-fifth of individuals between 16 and 64 years are grappling with what’s been labelled as work-limiting conditions. “The scale of the issue has escalated to the point where it’s jeopardising our country’s economic prospects,” noted the Health Foundation. This crisis isn’t exclusive to those currently out of employment; it also encompasses an equal number of employed individuals whose health restricts their occupational capabilities.

Christopher Rocks of the Health Foundation outlined the complexity of this predicament, attributing its development to a decade’s worth of challenges, including the 2008 financial crisis and exacerbated by the pandemic and cost of living crisis. “The 2008 financial crisis…had an impact on people’s health in many different ways…Access to health care has become more difficult, while those fundamental building blocks of health – such as good housing and adequate incomes – are under strain,” Rocks explained.

Graphical data supports these concerns, indicating a persistent rise in individuals both in and out of employment facing health challenges from 2014 through 2023.

Three primary health conditions are imposing a significant toll: chronic pain, type 2 diabetes, and mental health disorders, with socio-economic factors and access to healthcare services greatly influencing their prevalence.

Tracey Loftis, head of policy at Versus Arthritis, elaborates on the specific ordeal of chronic pain, “Behind every statistic is a person living with unimaginable pain, many of whom are struggling.” She points to the soaring hospital waiting lists as a testament to the dire state of healthcare provision.

Mental health, particularly among the youth, has seen a dramatic surge. Over a third of 18 to 24-year-olds report symptoms of mental illness, a disturbing trend that Dr. Shari McDaid of the Mental Health Foundation warns is compounded by historical socio-political turmoil and the pervasive impact of social media.

Diabetes UK echoes these concerns, drawing a link between type 2 diabetes and lifestyle factors, which are further aggravated by social deprivation.

The Health Foundation’s report calls for a holistic cross-government strategy to confront the root causes of ill-health and suggests that additional funding for the NHS, local councils, and the voluntary sector is imperative.

“You need a healthy workforce if you want a healthy economy,” Rocks asserts, urging employers to enhance working conditions and adapt roles to accommodate those with health limitations.

The release concludes with the case of Lee Vaughan, who has continued his role as a leisure centre manager with his employer’s supportive adjustments, exemplifying how a considerate workplace can effectively sustain employees with health issues.

For further details on the Health Foundation’s research and insights into the UK’s working-age health crisis, refer to the full report on The Health Foundation website.

Editor at Workplace Wellbeing Professional | Website | + posts

Joanne is the editor for Workplace Wellbeing Professional and has a keen interest in promoting the safety and wellbeing of the global workforce. After earning a bachelor's degree in English literature and media studies, she taught English in China and Vietnam for two years. Before joining Work Well Pro, Joanne worked as a marketing coordinator for luxury property, where her responsibilities included blog writing, photography, and video creation.