According to latest figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS), the UK’s sickness absence rate fell to 1.8% in 2020; this is the lowest recorded level since the data time series began in 1995. This figure is surprising given the impact of the pandemic during 2020, and since April last year coronavirus accounted for 14.0% of all occurrences of sickness absence. While the virus may have led to additional sickness absence, measures such as furloughing, social distancing, shielding and increased homeworking appear to have helped reduce other causes of absence, allowing the general downward trend to continue. In addition, the shift to working from home could have also meant that people who would normally have felt too ill to travel into the workplace felt well enough to complete their work from home, leading to a lower absence rate.
Minor illnesses were still the leading cause of absence, making up over a quarter of the total claims (26.1 per cent). Other common reasons for sickness absence included musculoskeletal problems (15.4 per cent) and mental health conditions (11.6 per cent). 17 per cent of claims fell under the category of ‘Other’. In addition, women were more likely to lose their working hours as a result of sickness and injury than men. In 2020, women lost 2.3 per cent of their working hours due to this in comparison with 1.5 per cent for men. Conversely, women’s rate of sickness absence has been falling at a faster rate than men over the last decade.
The only group to see a rise in sickness absence rates over the last decade were employees aged over 65, increasing by 0.4 percentage points to 2.8 per cent in 2020.