Britain was expected to face a surge in unemployment after pandemic holiday schemes ended, but instead the labor market is the toughest in a generation. With more vacancies than active job seekers and many sectors struggling with skills shortages, higher wages, improved productivity and new employment opportunities for those on the margins can be expected.

Still real increase in wages has been stagnant for at least ten years. Productivity only recently returned to pre-2008 levels. And what is most disturbing, we see a crisis of participationwith a record increase of 640,000 in economically inactive people since the beginning of the pandemic.

The reasons people choose not to work have changed significantly over time, as you can see in the graph below. “Taking care of family or home” (black line) has decreased significantly over the past couple of decades, while the number of students has increased (yellow line).

Causes of incapacity for work, 2002-22

The vertical dashed line marks the beginning of the pandemic.
Labor Force Survey, Submitted by author (no reuse)

But perhaps the most dramatic change has been the number of people with long-term or chronic illnesses who leave work altogether (blue line). With 170 thousand people having expanded the ranks of this group in just the last month, they now number almost 2.5 million – the largest number of long-term sick people out of work in our history. The last time the numbers approached this level was two decades ago.

Explanation of the shift

Long NHS waiting lists may account for some of the rise, particularly among older workers with multiple or complex medical conditions and those with mental health problems. A long COVID is also likely play a rolewith 2.3 million patients and about 1.1 million (46%) with symptoms that persist for at least a year.

Another factor is people with long-term illnesses. only 60% for example, working-age cancer survivors return to work a year after treatment ends. Cancer survivors often highly motivated to resume work because it means going back to “normal»life and can increase their financial independence.

However, the cancer itself, its treatment and side effects often increase the risk of developing it early withdrawal from the labor market. Yes 53% of cancer survivors have to give up work, and there is 1.4 times more likely to be unemployed than the average person.

For those who are able, the path back to work can be difficult. Employers should be empathetic and recognize that a returning employee’s performance may be impaired for a period of time. A A Norwegian study found that 31% of workers with cancer reported decreased ability to perform physical work due to cancer, and nearly a quarter reported decreased cognitive ability.

Many employers also do not help people with long-term illnesses to stay in or return to the labor market – despite high vacancy rates. I recently co-produced a poll 1241 of working-age cancer patients in the UK, which was not peer-reviewed because the cohort is not representative of the general population, but hopefully still gives a good idea of ​​people’s experiences.

Many felt unsupported and some were even fired or fired after returning to work. A third were unable to gradually return to work, and 25% had to take annual leave to receive chemotherapy or even surgery. Most returnees reduced their working hours, with full-time employment falling from 73% before treatment to 46% after, despite more than half of survivors being the primary breadwinner in their family.

Most respondents said the emotional impact of cancer treatment far outweighed the physical effects, with 93% reporting side effects such as fatigue (93%), brain fog (68%), anxiety (60%), loss of confidence (55%) and pain (54%). Each is a hidden disorder that has proven difficult for many survivors. One said:

My boss once said to me, “Well, don’t expect sympathy from us because you look great.”

Another said:

I offered to reduce my workload for a few months, even accept a lower salary. But my boss accused me of being slow and ended up leaving me with no option but to retire.

It should be kept in mind that cancer is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act. This means that it is illegal to discriminate against someone for this reason.

The way forward

I have written earlier about my own experience of cancer treatment and my eventual return to work, so I especially appreciate the benefit of being supported by my employer. It is perhaps no wonder that, faced with difficulties at work, many choose economic inactivity or early retirement.

Having 2.5 million people of working age with long-term illnesses who are economically inactive is exacerbating skills shortages, driving up inflation and stifling the economic growth that the Truss government has so focused on. These people are usually not subject to sanctions or so-called “benefit conditions”, so they cannot be penalized for returning to work.

The builder sits at the end of the corridor

“It just keeps getting better and better.”

The answer is to help many more people avoid job loss, and if they do leave the labor market, to put in place compassionate, personalized and skilled training and support to encourage them to return. The good news is that researchers are developing more innovative ways helping employers provide for cancer survivors, which often involves job redesign, peer support and executive training.

On the other hand, now is not a good time to cut the Department for Work and Pensions 3,000 job coaches. The fact that the UK government is also looking to increase the use of sanctions against part-time workers who do not want to work longer hours is not an encouraging sign either. Let’s hope for a change in approach soon, before many chronically ill people are lost to the economy forever.