…By Larry John for TDPel Media.
Almost 2 million individuals in the UK are estimated to be living with long COVID, which refers to the persistent after-effects of COVID-19 that can endure for months or even years after the initial infection.
Common symptoms include fatigue, breathlessness, muscle and joint pain, cognitive impairment, and sleep disruption.
Moreover, individuals with long COVID face a higher risk of developing serious heart and lung problems, stroke, and blood clots compared to those who have not previously been diagnosed with COVID.
Long COVID and Unemployment Rates
Studies conducted across multiple countries have demonstrated a link between long COVID and reduced employment rates.
For instance, research in the United States revealed that individuals with long COVID had a 23% higher likelihood of being unemployed and a 16% lower likelihood of working full-time (which increased to 25% for those with cognitive symptoms).
Analyzing Long COVID and Employment in the UK
Our analysis, based on data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), aimed to assess the situation in the UK regarding long COVID and its association with employment.
The analysis utilized data collected from 206,000 respondents to the coronavirus infection survey, which included questions on long COVID from February 2021 to March 2023.
This large, randomly selected sample provided valuable insights into the relationship between long COVID and economic inactivity (not looking for work) or long-term absence while employed.
Economic Inactivity and Long-Term Absence
The analysis revealed that individuals reporting long COVID seven to 12 months after their initial COVID infection had roughly a 40% higher chance of being out of employment and not actively seeking work, compared to their pre-infection period.
Notably, this relationship was most pronounced among individuals aged 50 to 64, with a peak increase of 71% in inactivity among those reporting long COVID seven to nine months after infection.
Additionally, among individuals who were employed, those reporting long COVID four to seven months after their initial infection were over 40% more likely to be absent from work for at least four weeks, compared to their pre-infection period.
However, this increased likelihood of absence did not persist for individuals reporting long COVID beyond seven months, possibly indicating a return to work after the statutory sick pay period or the departure of individuals with severe illness from the sample.
Contextualizing the Findings
The pandemic has led to a rise in economic inactivity rates in the UK, with half a million more working-age adults being out of employment primarily due to ill health in mid-2022 compared to 2019.
Taking into account prevalence estimates of long COVID, we estimate that around 27,000 working-age individuals in the UK were inactive due to long COVID symptoms in July 2022, representing 0.5% of the total economic inactivity among the non-student working-age population during that period.
It is important to note that our analysis may not fully capture all the employment-related consequences of long COVID.
For example, the effect on working hours could not be assessed due to data limitations.
Other research suggests that long COVID may have resulted in the loss of 4.4 million working hours per week in the UK and that approximately 80,000 people had left employment due to long COVID by March 2022.
The Impact on Family Members and the Need for Support
The capacity to work of family members of individuals with long COVID may also be affected, as they may need to reduce their working hours to provide care and support.
However, limited research exists on this particular aspect.
Conclusion: Addressing the Challenges and Recommendations
The challenges posed by long COVID in the workplace are significant.
The fluctuating and episodic nature of the symptoms makes it difficult for individuals to recognize recovery and return to a fixed work routine.
This is particularly challenging without job flexibility, which can exacerbate existing health, social, and economic inequalities, as higher-paid jobs tend to offer more flexibility in terms of hours and location.
A survey of individuals with long COVID found that two-thirds of participants reported experiencing unfair treatment at work, while nearly a quarter stated that their employer had questioned the legitimacy of their condition or the impact of their symptoms.
The all-party parliamentary group for coronavirus in the UK has recommended recognizing long COVID as an occupational disease for key workers and producing guidelines for employers in both private and public sectors to assist employees in managing the effects of long COVID.
In order to prioritize public health and productivity, governments, employers, and society as a whole should provide support for individuals with long COVID and other chronic illnesses that have episodic symptoms, helping them navigate their job arrangements.
Negative attitudes and stigmatization towards long COVID in the workplace need to be addressed.
In conclusion, the impact of long COVID on employment is substantial, with a significant number of individuals experiencing economic inactivity or long-term absence from work.
Understanding and addressing these challenges, along with implementing supportive measures, is crucial for the well-being and productivity of individuals with long COVID and their families.