Civil service sick days on the rise, latest stats reveal

Ministry of Justice tops departmental “days lost” rankings, according to Cabinet Office figures
Photo: Bastian/Flickr/CC BY SA 2.0

By Jim Dunton

31 Mar 2023

Civil servants took more sick days in the year to March 2022 than they did during the first year of the Coronavirus pandemic, just-published Cabinet Office staff absence statistics have revealed.

According to the figures, UK civil service staff took an average of 7.9 sick days in 2021-2022, up from 6.1 days in the previous year – which coincided with the first national Covid-19 lockdowns. The latest figure is the highest since 2011, when staff took an average of 8.2 sick days.

The Cabinet Office said that the 7.9 day average figure broke down to 4.3 days lost to long-term sickness, and 3.6 days to short-term sickness.

Unsurprisingly, Covid-19 was the single biggest cause of short-term absence, responsible for 32% of days lost. Mental ill-health was the largest cause of long-term sickness absence, accounting for 42% of days lost.

The Ministry of Justice had the highest staff-absence figures for the year to March 2022. Out of a table of 40 government departments and agencies for which data was given,  MoJ staff took an average of 12.1 sick days, up from 9 the previous year.

The now-defunct Department for International Trade had the lowest absence rate: 2.5 days, up from 1.7 days the previous year.

According to the figures, Cabinet Office staff took an average of 3.5 sick days in 2021-2022, up from 2.5 the previous year.

Regionally, London had the lowest level of sickness absence with an average of 5.9 days per staff member lost during the period. Northern Ireland had the highest level of sickness absence, with 9.6 days lost. The West Midlands was close behind with 9.5 days.

Broken down by gender, the figures showed that women took proportionately more sick days than men, with an average of 8.7 days for female staff against 7.1 days for male counterparts.

The data also showed that older staff take more sick days on average than their younger counterparts. Over-60s took an average of 10 days off sick compared to 6.7 days for under-30s.

Although the staff absence figures show rates at an 11-year high, the Cabinet Office said they also showed 53% of civil servants had no days off due to ill health in 2021-2022, in contrast with 45% in 2011-2012.

Despite over-60s being more likely to take a higher number of sick days than their younger counterparts,  the age group was also the most likely to take no sick days at all.

The Cabinet Office said 57% of over-60s took no sick days off in 2021-2022, compared with 52% in the 30-39 and 40-49 age groups. Staff in the 50-59 age bracket had the second-best record for not taking sick days: 54% went for the entire year without taking a single day off due to illness.

A government spokesperson said the Office for National Statistics’ Labour Force Survey showed that increases in sickness absence in the civil service were “mirrored” in the wider economy, including in the private sector.

“The civil service continues to improve its approach to health and wellbeing to help employees access the support they need to stay in or return to work, and fulfil their potential,” they said.

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