‘Worrying trend’ as nearly twice as many young adults are not working due to ill health


Generation sicknote: ‘Worrying trend’ as nearly twice as many young adults are not working due to ill health compared with a decade ago

  • Most of those affected only have qualifications at GCSE-level or below

Nearly twice as many young adults are not working due to ill health compared with a decade ago, research suggests.

Most of those affected have lower levels of education, with four in five having only qualifications at GCSE-level or below.

The Resolution Foundation, the think-tank behind the study, said the ‘worrying trend’ has gone completely under the radar.

Its ‘Left behind’ report, which was funded by the Health Foundation, says that overall levels of worklessness among young people are low.

In early 2023, the number of young people not in education, employment or training (Neet) stood at 720,000, lower than the post-financial crisis peak of 1.1million.

Most of those affected have lower levels of education, with four in five having only qualifications at GCSE-level or below (file image)

Most of those affected have lower levels of education, with four in five having only qualifications at GCSE-level or below (file image)

But there was a near-doubling of the number of 18 to 24-year-olds not working due to ill health, from 94,000 in 2012 to 185,000 in 2022, said the report.

The most common reason for these people being absent from work is due to poor mental health. 

Almost one in four workless young people are inactive because of ill-health, up from less than one in ten in 2012, the study indicated.

The Resolution Foundation claimed policymakers’ attention has been focused on rising ill-health among older workers.

But its report warns: ‘Any spell out of the labour market at a young age can have scarring effects on future employment prospects, but young people who are workless due to ill health are especially hard hit.’

It notes four in five young people who are workless due to ill health have been so for at least two years – compared to only a quarter of young people who are unemployed.

The research shows that rates of youth worklessness due to ill health vary little between more and less deprived areas of the UK. 

This is in contrast to inactivity due to ill health across the population as a whole, which is concentrated in deprived areas.

Rather, young people living in major cities are the least likely to be workless because they are unwell.

In 2020 to 2022, for example, 1.8 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds in London, and 2.0 per cent in other cities such as Glasgow and Liverpool – both of which have significant levels of deprivation – were not working due to ill health.

In contrast, 3.4 per cent living in small towns or villages, in areas such as Devon and South Wales, were inactive due to ill-health.

Researchers say this picture can be explained by the fact that many young people relocate from smaller places to big cities, firstly to study, and later to take up graduate jobs – changing the overall makeup of the city’s population to one with a high share of students and graduates.

Louise Murphy, an economist at the Resolution Foundation, said: ‘We cannot afford to let young people who are workless due to ill health get left behind. 

‘We must improve their education opportunities and ensure there is access to better mental health support.’



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