Britain’s economy will suffer an £8bn hit this year from a reduction in the size of the workforce caused by a pandemic-induced rise in ill-health, research from a thinktank has shown.
A report from the Institute for Public Policy Research said a combination of long Covid, NHS disruption and an increase in mental illness meant 400,000 workers had gone “missing” since the global health crisis began.
The report, published to mark the launch of the IPPR’s two-year Commission on Health and Prosperity, said the UK was paying a high price for deep health inequalities and ineffective policies that meant people were living shorter lives and faced greater barriers to staying in and getting on at work.
The IPPR said the relationship between health and the economy went beyond people being off work through sickness and ill health, and was a crucial factor in the UK’s low productivity, low growth and vast regional inequalities.
Two years after the start of the pandemic, the UK workforce is more than 1 million people smaller than it would have been on pre-crisis trends. The IPPR said health factors were responsible for almost half the decrease.
People living in the most economically deprived parts of the country, such as Blackpool, Knowsley and Barking and Dagenham, were on average falling into poor health in their late 50s, five years earlier than the national average and 12 years sooner than people living in the healthiest place, Wokingham.
Dame Sally Davies, England’s former chief medical officer and co-chair of the IPPR’s Commission on Health and Prosperity, said there had never been a more important time to put good health at the heart of society and the economy. “A fairer country is a healthier one, and a healthier country is a more prosperous one,” she said. “While the restrictions have eased, the scars of the pandemic still remain deep on the nation’s health and our economy.”
Another commission member, Andy Burnham, mayor of Greater Manchester said: “One of the fundamental beliefs of the British public is that everyone should have access to good health, irrespective of their means and location. But currently we see serious inequalities in health and opportunity. Good health must be built into all the places people live across the whole country and communities must be supported to take greater control of their health and wellbeing.”