Health & Lifestyle

WFH is fuelling sick note Britain, says minister with record 2.5million people signed off work 

Aches and pains caused by WFH has fuelled Britain’s bulging sick bill, the work and pensions secretary has suggested.

Bad posture while working remotely may have contributed to the rise in those now unemployed due to muscle, back and joint problems, Mel Stride said.

Poor mental health since the Covid pandemic is also partly to blame, he added.

The MP for Central Devon said getting people back to work is a ‘prime focus’ of the Government and can boost the economy and reduce reliance on overseas workers.

Reforms that will see sick Brits keep their benefits after returning to work and schemes that offer life coaches to help with job applications are key to tackling the trend, he said. 

Bad posture while working remotely may have contributed to the rise in those now unemployed due to muscle, back and joint problems, Mel Stride said

Bad posture while working remotely may have contributed to the rise in those now unemployed due to muscle, back and joint problems, Mel Stride said

The ONS graph shows the cumulative change in number of people aged 16 to 64 years who are not working due to long-term sickness between January to March 2017 to June to August 2022. The figure is up by 498,642 since March 2017

The ONS graph shows the cumulative change in number of people aged 16 to 64 years who are not working due to long-term sickness between January to March 2017 to June to August 2022. The figure is up by 498,642 since March 2017 

A record 2.5million people were not working due to long-term sickness in the first three months of the year, according to data from the Office for National Statistics.

It means that for every 13 workers, there is one person unemployed because of their illness.

This is up from 2million in 2019, before the Covid pandemic struck.

Mr Stride told The Times that the figure is ‘going in the wrong direction’.

While the reasons behind the rise are ‘difficult to unpick’, muscle, back and joint problems accounted for many cases of long-term absence, Mr Stride said.

Bad posture while working from home could be a contributing factor, he added.

ONS data shows the number off sick due to back and neck pain has jumped by 31 per cent to more than 262,000 since 2019. It also said the increase in home working since the pandemic may be to blame. 

Experts say bad posture and less movement and exercise — such as not having to walk to work or around the office — among those based at home can lead to musculoskeletal problems.

Nearly half (44 per cent) of Brits either work from home full-time or have hybrid working condition, meaning they only have to go into the office on some days, according to latest ONS figures. 

Mr Stride also blamed a rise in poor mental health for the growing numbers on long-term sick leave.

He said: ‘There is a lot around mental health, particularly amongst younger people — phobias and anxieties have been on the increase and you can speculate about, it is social media driven. 

‘And driven in part by the pandemic and lockdown — lots of things that could feed into that.’

The cost of living crisis may also have ‘increased the propensity of people to apply for benefits’, according to Mr Stride.

Mr Stride hopes reforms will help tackle the problem.

Plans unveiled in January will let those on long-term sick leave keep their benefits after returning to the workplace and be offered tax breaks for getting a job.

And there are plans to expand a £2,300 per person scheme that offers life coaches to people with long-term health conditions to help them back into work.

Pilots in Sheffield and the West Midlands suggest it gets half of those who use it back into a job, according to The Times. 

Mr Stride told the newspaper: ‘If we can get these things right, and the early evidence is very strong, then we can really grow it and ramp it up.’

He argued that it is essential to get more people working to boost the economy and fund vital services — including policing, the NHS and army.

And more Brits in jobs will reduce the reliance on overseas workers to fill vacancies. 

The MP also hailed obesity-fighting drugs that have been shown to help people shift the scales, saying that they could ‘move the dial’ on benefits. 

Semaglutide, sold under the brand name Wegovy, was given the green light by UK health watchdogs to help people lose weight.

He said such drugs could be ‘very useful’ in reducing long-term sickness. Weighing too much is linked with an array of heath conditions, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.

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