2.5m unable to work due to ill health – Your income options if you’re too sick to work

5 min Read Published: 16 May 2023

2.5m unable to work due to ill-health - Your income options if you're too sick to workMore than 2.5 million people were unable to work during the first quarter of 2023 according to the latest UK labour market report by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which is an increase of nearly 100,000 on the previous quarter.

The ONS report makes mention of the detrimental impact that the Covid pandemic has had on people who are unable to work due to post-viral, long-covid symptoms. It also cites increased absences caused by mental health impacts amongst young people and back and neck pain among those working from home.

In this article, we look at the causes of increased sickness absence in the workplace, how it may affect you and what you can do to minimise the impact if you are too ill to work.

What is causing the increase in absence due to sickness?

The increase in sickness absence numbers over the first quarter of 2023 is partly attributed to post-viral illness caused by Covid, mental health impacts and an increase in muscle and joint pains. However, the overall number of people off work due to sickness is made up of a much wider range of illnesses and injuries. The ONS report makes mention of the detrimental impact that the Covid pandemic has had on people who are unable to work due to post-viral, long-covid symptoms. It also cites increased absences caused by mental health impacts amongst young people and back and neck pain among those working from home.

In fact, the incidence of sickness absence that is caused by mental health issues and a range of musculoskeletal concerns, have long been cited as the main reasons that people claim on sickness insurance policies. The conditions are linked to long-term absence as well as multiple episodes of sickness absence due to the chronic and recurring nature of such conditions.

How to ensure your bills are paid when off long-term sick

Sickness or injury that prevents you from being able to work can result in lost income that leads to financial difficulty depending on your personal circumstances. It can affect your ability to meet your financial commitments leading to impaired credit scores that could make getting further financial help even more difficult.

It is a good idea to work out what support exists should you find yourself unable to work due to illness. Check your employment contract to understand exactly how much you would be paid if you were off ill and for how long. Also, work out what savings you could access to support you with paying bills and how much more you could put aside.

Although state benefits may be limited, it can be useful to work out what you are entitled to so you can calculate the shortfall that you would need to address. Working out a budget can also be helpful as it allows you to understand exactly how much you have coming in and going out of your bank each month and what would need to be paid if you found yourself out of work for a long period of time.

Below we list some of the things you should check so you know what you are entitled to if you are off long-term sick:

  • Employer sick pay - some employers do not provide sick pay beyond statutory sick pay while others will continue to pay staff for a limited period of time
  • Statutory Sick Pay/Benefits - Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) is £109.40 per week and if you qualify, it will pay you for up to 28 weeks of incapacity to work after which you may have to apply for Employment and Support Allowance or other benefits
  • Income/outgoings - work out exactly how much you will need to pay each month if you are off long-term sick, this will help you to build savings such as an emergency fund or find appropriate insurance to ensure your bills can be paid in the event you are unable to work
  • Savings - if you are fortunate enough to have savings, work out how long these would cover your essential expenditure if you were absent from work due to sickness

How to protect yourself against income lost through sickness

The first thing to do is to realise that even the healthiest people get sick sometimes so regardless of your past and current health, it is wise to prepare for such an event. Here are a few things you can do:

  • Create an emergency fund - having a financial buffer will help you in the short term so that you can navigate the immediate impact of sickness absence. Our article, 'Building an Emergency Fund – the what, why & how' tells you everything you need to know.
  • Buy Sick Pay Insurance - sick pay insurance - also known as income protection - provides you with up to 70% of your gross income if you become ill or injured and cannot work and you can choose when it is paid. For more information on income protection and how it works, read our article, 'Sick Pay Insurance Guide'.

How to protect your business against staff sickness

Businesses can and do suffer financial losses due to sickness absence and despite the desire to support staff in these situations, there may not always be the financial means to - especially if replacement staff need hiring and training. However, there are ways to protect your business against such circumstances whilst boosting your staff retention rates. Group income protection benefit schemes are a great way of ensuring that your business has the means to deal with staff absence in a positive and supportive way.

Group income protection is an insurance benefits scheme that will provide an income to your employee to ensure that they are supported by the business. It also provides employees with access to Employee Support Programmes that allow staff to access support with their mental health and wellbeing - services, they may otherwise have to wait to access through the NHS. This can result in preventing sickness absence altogether or reducing the duration of it, both of which are positive outcomes for the business and its employee. You can read more about this type of scheme in our article, 'What is group income protection and is it worth it?'.


Increases in workplace absence due to sickness may be caused by multiple factors but what is clear is that the effects are arguably greater now due to rising living costs and low levels of savings. Workers are more likely to suffer mental health issues such as stress and anxiety as a result of the financial strain that exists which is likely to be exacerbated by a period of absence from work. It is, however, difficult to predict what the future may hold so building financial resilience is key.

If you are unsure where to start and what you need, you can contact a specialist personal insurance broker* - they are well-versed in establishing where your vulnerabilities lie before recommending tailored insurance solutions that could provide you with financial support to get you through a period of lost earnings due to illness. They will work around your priorities and are particularly helpful if you're working to a budget in terms of what you wish to spend on creating this type of protection.



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