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Far more women becoming too sick to work, TUC warns

FAR more women are being forced by long-term sickness to give up work than their male counterparts, new research suggests.

The number of women who are economically inactive due to long-term sickness has risen by 502,883 from five years ago, according to a TUC analysis published today.

For males, the figure was significantly lower, at 347,379, the analysis of official figures showed.

TUC general secretary Paul Nowak 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.”

The total number of women barred from work by ill health increased by 48 per cent over the period in question, from 1.04 million to 1.54 million.

Among men, the rise was 37 per cent, from 0.94 million to 1.29 million.

This means that women account for 60 per cent of the overall rise in economic inactivity due to long-term sickness over the five years ending in February, the TUC found.

The union federation’s analysis also revealed that the number of women economically inactive due to musculoskeletal conditions (arms, hands, legs, feet, back and neck problems) had increased by 47 per cent.

For conditions such as cancer, the rise was 15 per cent, and for depression and anxiety and mental illness, it was 27 per cent.

The largest increase was in the “other” category, which saw a rise of 161,000 or 138 per cent.

Mr Nowak called for investment in local preventive services and “bringing down our sky-high waiting lists” for community, cancer, mental health and preventative NHS services.

He added that tackling the surge in economic inactivity due to sickness “means dealing with the chronic staffing shortages across the NHS and social care that are delaying patients from being seen when they need to.

“And 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.”

The TUC has previously found that half a million more women than men are paid below the real living wage, with black and minority ethnic women twice as likely as white men to be on zero-hours contracts.

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