At least one in ten young employees have reported having a work-limiting health condition, according to an analysis published on Friday.
The Health Foundation said a 16–34-year-old employed in 2023 is now as likely to report a work-limiting health condition as someone aged 45–54 did 10 years ago.
The proportion of people working with work-limiting health conditions has also increased in other age groups, impacting 3.7 million working-age people, the analysis shows.
Meanwhile, sickness absence rates have jumped to the highest level since 2008 after more than two decades of decline.
According to the analysis, during the second quarter of 2023, some 3.9 million people who were economically inactive—meaning they were not working and not looking for work—reported having work-limiting health conditions, although only 2.6 million said they left work primarily because of the conditions.
The analysis found that almost as many people, or 3.7 million, were in employment with work-limiting conditions.
Broken down by age groups, the proportion of 16–34-year-olds who reported work-limiting conditions was 10.2 percent, almost double the proportion in the same quarter a decade ago (5.2 percent), when 45–54-year-olds reported at a similar level (9.8 percent).
Among 35–44-year-olds, 10.4 percent reported work-limiting conditions in the second quarter, compared to 7.4 percent ten years ago.
Some 13.2 percent of 45–54-year-olds and 16.1 percent of 55–64-year-olds reported work-limiting conditions, up from 9.8 percent and 13.3 percent, respectively.
For older workers (aged 45 and above), musculoskeletal was the most common condition. It's overtaken by mental health issues when it comes to young workers.
Among 35–44-year-olds, both conditions were reported by 2.4 percent of working people, while mental health issues are leading conditions that impact the work of 16–34-year-olds.
One in 26, or 3.8 percent, of 16–34-year-old workers reported having work-limiting mental health conditions, 1.6 percent reported chronic conditions, 1.5 percent reported hearing, seeing, allergies, epilepsy, or autism, 1.3 percent reported musculoskeletal conditions, and 1.9 percent reported other conditions.
Dr. Jennifer Dixon, chief executive of the Health Foundation, said it's a "significant problem" for the UK's economy.
‘With 3.7 million working-age people in work with a health condition that is ‘work-limiting’ and 2.6 million economically inactive due to ill health, the country has a significant problem," she said in a statement.
"The impact of poor health on individuals and their families, whether they are in work or not, is considerable. And for the country, poor health in the working population will drag down productivity, the economy and add a huge avoidable burden on public services and employers," she said.
Responding to the Health Foundation's analysis, Dr. Layla McCay, director of policy at the NHS Confederation, blamed "a decade of NHS underfunding" for the increase of reported work-limiting conditions among working-age people.
"Action is clearly needed to support employees with ill health, but these findings also reinforce the importance of a fully functioning health and care service that not only helps people get better but prevents illness in the first place," she said.d
“The case for investment is self-evident, with research showing that for every £1 invested in health, there is a return of £4 to the wider economy, and getting people off waiting lists will help many back to full fitness, reducing the limits on their ability to work."