New ONS figures show Tories ‘legacy of ill health’, says union body

Labour market stats reveal historically high levels of people off work due to long-term sickness

The latest ONS labour market figures released today revealed historically high levels of people off work due to long-term sickness.

2.8 million people are now not working due to long-term sickness, the latest stats show, which the Trades Union Congress (TUC) has said is a direct result of Government failings over the NHS, while experts warn of the detrimental effects the ONS figures suggest for living standards in the UK.  

Paul Nowak, TUC general secretary slammed the Tories’ failure to invest in public health for the peak levels of long-term illness today. 

“The Conservative legacy is low pay, ill health and more job insecurity,” blasted Nowak.

“These figures show how people’s lives are being held back by the government’s failure to invest in our NHS.

“2.8 million people are out of work because of long-term sickness and the numbers are still rising.

“It’s time for change. We need a proper plan for jobs, growth and public services to get living standards rising sustainably again.”

Average real pay remains £12 per week lower than in 2008, while over a million workers are currently on zero-hour contracts.

Job vacancies fell for the nineteenth consecutive month although there are signs this trend is now slowing, however they remain above their pre-Covid 19 levels. 

Sharon Graham of Unite the union also accussed the government of “years of failure” as the pay and earnings statistics showed workers still below 2021 living standards. 

Graham said the government had “failed to move the dial” leaving workers to “bear the brunt” from years of mismanagement. 

“The truth is since the government lost control of inflation in 2021 price rises have vastly outpaced wage increases,” said Graham.

“As the profiteering bonanza continues, with shareholders pocketing ever higher payouts, workers need above inflation pay rises just to return to where they were three years ago.”

Living standards are already predicted to be 3.5% lower in 2024-25 than pre-pandemic levels, which a leading UK think tank The Work Foundation said is underpinned by the latest ONS stats. 

“For millions the cost of living crisis is not over, and yet the tide is continuing to turn on pay,” The Work Foundation Director, Ben Harrison, said. 

“After record pay increases in September 2023, workers are now seeing only modest real wage growth of 1.4%.”

Harrison said the data on those who are economic inactive due to long-term sickness is the highest level since records began in 1993. 

“The recently revised ONS figures show that since before the pandemic, the UK now has just under 700,000 more working age adults out of the labour market due to work due to ill health. 

“Against this backdrop, the Government may be tempted to tighten welfare sanctions even further to help fill the 932,000 vacancies and reduce the benefit bill. 

“Doing so will risk pushing those reliant on Universal Credit into low quality, insecure work – which could exacerbate any underlying health condition they have, and is unlikely to lead to sustained employment.”

He called for the government to focus on scaling up investment of health and occupational support services and in driving up the quality of jobs on offer.

(Image credit: Flickr / Creative Commons)

Hannah Davenport is news reporter at Left Foot Forward, focusing on trade unions and environmental issues

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