Health Foundation analysis of working age ill-health burden allows occupational disease claims insights
Market Insight 21 November 2023 21 November 2023
UK & Europe
Analysis published by the independent charity, The Health Foundation, provides some insights into ill-health trends in the working-age population. Figures relating to ill-health and disease burden in the working-age population are likely to be of interest to EL insurers and employers as indicators of potential areas of liability claims focus in the coming years.
The Health Foundation analysis reveals an almost 60% increase over the last decade in the number of those of working age who are in work but with a work-limiting condition. The number falling into this category is now similar to the number of those of working age who are not participating in the labour market at all.
What is perhaps most startling is that much of the growth has been driven by younger workers, the number in the 16-34 age range with work-limiting conditions having doubled in the past decade, a worker in this age range now being as likely as a worker in the 45-54 age range to have a work-limiting condition. In particular, these numbers have been driven by significant increases in mental ill-health generally, but particularly, again, in younger workers - numbers in the younger working population with mental ill-health difficulties having quadrupled in the past decade. The Health Foundation has identified increases in awareness in relation to mental ill-health, and changing attitudes, as factors to explain this increase – factors which we have been highlighting at Clyde & Co for some time as matters with the potential to drive liability claim numbers in this area and as potentially presenting a greater challenge to the defence of any such claims.
The Health Foundation identifies musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions and other chronic disease as more common work-limiting factors in older working cohorts, with "other" conditions now the third most common generally.
The Health Foundation analysis does not, however, consider the role of work itself in the development of these conditions; a comparison with the HSE Statistics for 2022, however, which is based on data relating to work-related conditions, appears to show a broad correlation with what the Health Foundation analysis shows more generally. The latest HSE statistics identify stress, anxiety and depression as accounting for 51% of cases of work-related ill-health, with 27% relating to MSK conditions and 22% to "other".
Again broadly correlating with the Health Foundation analysis, the HSE statistics indicate that rates of stress, anxiety and depression were increasing prior to the pandemic and are now higher than pre-pandemic levels. With respect to musculoskeletal conditions, the HSE had noted a downward trend prior to the pandemic but with the current rate similar to pre-pandemic, suggesting that the Covid period was a contributory factor in relation to numbers of work-related MSK conditions.
With respect to conditions falling into the broad "Other" category, the Health Foundation suggests that the effects of Covid infection do not necessarily provide a full explanation here, and although the HSE statistics suggest 123,000 cases of work-related Covid infection, insurers and employers have not perhaps seen the wave of occupational claims which had been anticipated earlier in the pandemic. Of course the concern about any wave of claims relating to Covid infection primarily related to the potential value associated with Long Covid cases, and the Health Foundation notes that Long Covid reports appear to be reducing at population level. That appears consistent with preliminary evidence that rates of Long Covid appear to be lower in relation to more recent infections – although it is unclear whether that relates to the nature of more recent variants, or, more likely, the impact of mass vaccination.
What the Health Foundation analysis tells us, therefore, is that there appears to be a broad correlation between the burden of ill-health in the working age population generally and the types of conditions associated with work-related ill-health, and that mental ill-health is, and continues to be, a dominant and growing feature of both landscapes. The Health Foundation analysis also highlights, however, the rapid growth in working-age ill-health, particularly mental ill-health, amongst younger workers. With the analysis demonstrating a "pay gap" issue for those still in work but with work-limiting conditions, that age demographic factor has ramifications, perhaps, for future liability claims values in the mental health arena, even if creating some expectation in some claims of mitigation of career loss earnings claims from a full loss to a differential basis.