New analysis from the Trades Union Congress (TUC) unveils a significant increase in long-term sickness as the primary cause of women’s economic inactivity in the labour market.

The TUC highlights a surge of over 500,000 women, constituting a 48% rise over the past five years, who are now economically inactive due to long-term illness, marking the highest figure on record.

While both men and women have experienced a notable increase in economic inactivity due to long-term sickness, the rise has been more pronounced among women, with men registering a 37% increase. Women now account for the majority (59%) of the rise in economic inactivity attributed to long-term illness.

Health Conditions Impacting Economic Inactivity

Further analysis reveals specific health conditions contributing to this trend:

  • Musculoskeletal Issues: Economic inactivity among women due to musculoskeletal problems has surged by 47%, equating to 126,000 individuals.
  • Cancer and Mental Health: Instances of economic inactivity stemming from conditions like cancer have risen by 15%, while those attributed to depression, anxiety, and mental illness have increased by 27%.
  • Other Conditions: Notably, the category of ‘other’ conditions has seen a staggering 138% increase, reflecting a broader spectrum of health challenges contributing to economic inactivity.

Factors Driving the Rise

The TUC identifies several factors contributing to the steep rise in long-term sickness:

  • Healthcare Access: Long waiting lists within the NHS and cuts to preventative health services have delayed access to treatment, exacerbating the situation.
  • Waiting List Challenges: Despite recent marginal reductions, NHS waiting lists remain persistently high, with significant increases noted in musculoskeletal care and physiotherapy.
  • Cuts to Preventative Services: Cuts to local preventative health services, particularly in deprived areas, have hindered efforts to address health issues proactively, despite the evident benefits of prevention measures.
  • Job Quality: Women’s susceptibility to long-term sickness is further exacerbated by job quality issues, including low pay and insecure employment prevalent in sectors like retail, hospitality, and social care.

Call for Action

TUC General Secretary, Paul Nowak, urges a comprehensive approach to address the rising incidence of long-term sickness among women. Instead of punitive measures, the TUC advocates for increased investment in public services, improvements in healthcare accessibility, and measures to enhance job quality.

In conclusion, the TUC report underscores the urgent need for targeted interventions to mitigate the adverse impacts of long-term sickness, safeguarding the health and economic participation of women in the workforce.