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The puzzle of UK’s half a million missing workers

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For the first time, more than 2.5 million people in the UK are out of work because of a long-term health problem. The number has jumped by half a million since the start of the pandemic - but, BBC News analysis reveals, the impact is spread unevenly across the country, with some regions and types of job far more affected.

For Mary Starling, there are good days and bad days.

The 61-year-old is on strong painkillers, for arthritis. She needs a knee replacement - but that could mean another 18 months on an NHS waiting list.

Mary is keen to return to that work - but needs her operation first.

"I feel despair - but I'm resigned to it," she says. "I understand it isn't possible to magic up something, though it's wearing not being able to plan my life."

The UK is in its fourth year of sharply rising chronic illness. The highest rates are among 50- to 64-year-olds, but there have also been significant increases in some younger groups.

Although the link is not conclusive, the Bank of England has said record NHS waiting lists are likely to be playing a "significant role".

Some of the largest increases are in people reporting mobility difficulties, such as leg and back problems, or heart and blood-pressure problems. More younger people, in particular, say they are not in work because of different forms of mental illness.

But the largest increase in long-term sickness is in the catch-all "other health problems" category, likely to include some of those with "long Covid" symptoms.

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Source: BBC News, 23 November 2022

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