Report finds workers on lower pay likelier to quit job due to ill health

The Learning and Work Institute is urging the government to ‘engage Britain’s 1.7 million forgotten workers.’

Employees who earn less money are more likely to have left their job because of their health during the pandemic than those on higher incomes, new analysis has found.  

The UK saw the biggest rise in people leaving the labour force of G7 countries throughout the pandemic. A study by the Learning and Work Institute (L&W), an independent policy, research and development organisation dedicated to lifelong learning, full employment and inclusion, sheds light on the reasons working-age people have been quitting their jobs in recent years. It shows that people in lower paid occupations are more likely to have left the labour market due to ill health. By contrast, those on higher salaries are more likely to have taken early retirement.

The Missing Workers reports shows the number of people not working and not looking for work increased by around 600,000 during the pandemic. Britain’s ‘economically inactive’ group has risen to nine million working-age people.

The analysis reveals stark class and gender divides in working-age people out of work. Higher paid and male-dominated roles such as IT professionals, managers and directors, account for around one in three people who took early retirement in the pandemic. While lower-paid, traditionally female-dominated ‘elementary’ roles such as caring services, housekeeping, and cleaning, are more likely to have given up work due to health reasons.

6 percent of people working in ‘elementary’ jobs took early retirement, and 19 percent left because of ill-health. For those in ‘professional’ higher paid jobs, the story is significantly different. 35 percent took early retirement, while only 8 percent quit because of their health.

The study found there has also been an increase in the number of people with long-term sickness, resulting from the impact of the pandemic and lengthy NHS waiting lists.

It also found glaring regional differences in the number of working-age economically-inactive people due to long-term ill-health. In Surrey, for example, the proportion of people out of work because of long-term ill-health was just 1 in 100. In parts of Merseyside, the figure was as much as 1 in 7. 

The think-tank is urging the government to ‘engage Britain’s 1.7 million forgotten workers.’

Stephen Evans, chief executive at Learning at Learning and Work Institute, told Left Foot Forward:

“The inequalities in reasons for leaving work during the pandemic are stark. Substantial numbers of people, mostly those in better paid roles, have saved enough or got sufficient pension provision to retire. But others, particularly those lower paid, need to keep working for financial reasons but say they are out of work due to ill health, likely a combination of the effects of the pandemic, the nature of their work particularly where it is physically demanding, and also an ageing population increasing the likelihood of people having long-term health conditions.

When asked what the more the government can do to help workers back into the workforce, Evans told us:

“We need the government to offer help to find work to anyone who wants a job, as at the moment only one in ten out-of-work older people and disabled people get such help each year. They can do that quickly by opening up access to Jobcentres and back-to-work programmes like Restart. But many people will also need help with health support, social care and childcare, and this social infrastructure is creaking at the seams right now. So, the government needs a broad plan to widen employment support, invest in social infrastructure, and work with employers on job design and recruitment approaches.”

A separate study by the Living Wage Foundation found a link between low pay and poor mental health. The Life on Low Pay in the Pandemic report published in February 2021, found that found that 46 percent of people working full-time but being paid less than the real Living Wage felt their pay negatively affected their levels of anxiety.

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

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