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Long-term sickness is pushing out women workers more than ever before

By Kace O'Neill | |5 minute read
Long Term Sickness Is Pushing Out Women Workers More Than Ever Before

Research has found that a number of women may not be working due to long-term sickness. This is a much higher rate than their male counterparts.

Long-term sickness has quietly become the leading reason for why women are leaving the labour market in the UK. A comprehensive study by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) has shown that the top reason for women not working used to be child-caring responsibilities or taking care of relatives. But now, sickness has taken over.

The study discovered that the number of women not working due to long-term sickness is rising at a far higher rate than it is for male workers. The union attributed this disparity to “overstretched public services”, surging waiting lists, and low-paid, demanding work that can often damage women’s physical and mental wellbeing.


The statistics that were discovered found that the overall number of women out of work due to long-term illness soared by 48 per cent, equating to 1.5 million workers over the past five years, going up by more than 500,000 over the highest number since the recording of the data started.

Paul Nowak, general secretary of the TUC, said: “We need a proper plan for dealing with the sharp rise in long-term sickness – not cynical gimmicks.”

“Instead of stigmatising people who are too ill to work, the government should be laser-focused on improving access to treatment and preventing people from becoming too sick to work in the first place. That means investing in local preventative services and bringing down our sky-high waiting lists.”

The study, which examined data between the end of 2018 and the end of 2023, found that the number of men out of work due to long-term sickness had surged by 37 per cent during this period; however, it doesn’t equate to the considerable number of women.

Nowak also called for an address of the disproportionate jobs that women work, which often put them through mental, physical, and financial strain.

“It means improving the quality of work in this country – so that women are not disproportionately trapped in low-paid, insecure jobs. But instead, the government is failing growing numbers of women who are unable to work because they can’t access the right treatment or support,” Nowak said.

The TUC also added that cuts to local preventative services could be contributing to the rise in long-term sickness. Women are more likely to work in sectors such as social care, retail and hospitality, where those jobs that produce mental, physical, and financial strain exist.

A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “Our £2.5 billion Back to Work Plan will help over a million people, including women, with long-term health conditions break down barriers to work.”


Gender pay gap

The term "gender pay gap" refers to the customarily higher average incomes and salaries that men receive over women.

Kace O'Neill

Kace O'Neill

Kace O'Neill is a Graduate Journalist for HR Leader. Kace studied Media Communications and Maori studies at the University of Otago, he has a passion for sports and storytelling.