Poor Mental Health Is Costing UK Firms £7 Billion a Year

Mental health conditions cost UK companies £6.9 billion ($8.4 billion) in working days lost to long-term illness in the year to August, according to new research.

(Bloomberg) — Mental health conditions cost UK companies £6.9 billion ($8.4 billion) in working days lost to long-term illness in the year to August, according to new research.

The cost of staff absences of 20 days or more due to poor mental health was almost as great as all long-term time off for musculoskeletal problems, surgery and cancer combined. Those ailments cost employers a total of £7.6 billion, the survey by GoodShape, an employee health and well-being adviser, found.

The study underscores the scale of the mental health crisis engulfing the UK. As well as rising numbers in the workplace, a record 2.6 million people are out of work with long-term sickness. Among that group, mental health issues are the largest single factor.

Long-term sickness has hit record levels in the UK, contributing to the job shortages that have been driving up inflation. Benefit claims have also surged as people have moved onto health-related welfare rather than the less generous unemployment allowance, piling pressure on the public finances.

GoodShape looked specifically into long-term sickness because it accounts for half of all days lost but only 5% of individual cases. It found the problem is getting worse.

The average time taken off with long-term sickness has risen from 59 to 62 days in the past 12 months. In total 147 million working days were lost in the year to August, costing employers £21 billion, GoodShape said.

The government has begun a crack down in an effort to bring people back to work and reduce welfare. It is changing arrangements for sick notes issued by doctors and has also launched a consultation into occupational health.

Speaking at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester this week, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said it was a “national scandal” that so many people of working age were not in jobs and that 65% of people taking a benefit assessment are declared unfit to work – up from one in five in 2011.  

“Are people three times sicker today than they were a decade ago? No, of course not,” he said.


Also speaking at the conference, Mel Stride, the work and pensions secretary, said people were “too readily identifying” as suffering from mental health conditions and that labelling was driving up the numbers of long-term sick.

GoodShape’s survey found that long-term sickness has grown fastest in the past year in retail and professional services. In the latter sector, which includes consulting and accounting, the average duration has risen by 17% to 68.6 days.

Retailers saw a 21% increase in length of time off sick to 64.8 days, the government a 7% increase to 65 days, and health care a 3% increase to 58.5 days.

Alun Baker, chief executive of GoodShape, said: “Businesses and government are acutely aware that long-term sickness has a detrimental impact on the UK’s economic growth.”

GoodShape’s survey was based on its proprietary database of workplace absences which covers more than 750,000 UK employee records. All absences covered are of a duration of 20 working days or more.

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