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An article today in HR Magazine has  reported that  sickness absence is on the rise following a drop during the recession, figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show. Before the onset of the downturn, 2.5% of employees in the ONS Labour Force Survey had taken at least one day off sick in the week before they were interviewed. This figure fell to a record low point of 2.1% in the first quarter of 2009 but was back to 2.5% by the last quarter of 2010.

The figures comes a week after the prime minister, David Cameron, announced a review into sickness absence, led by national director for health and work Dame Carol Black and British Chambers of Commerce director general David Frost. Cameron said he wanted people in work to stay “fit, healthy and productive”, noting that half the people in long-term unemployment began by being signed off sick.

The ONS data shows that about 613,000 employees were absent from work, and two million working days were lost between October and December 2010.

In the final quarter of 2010, 2.1% of male employees (264,000) were absent from work, compared with 2.9% of female employees (349,000). Other than minor illnesses such as coughs and colds, the top reason for men to be off work was musculoskeletal problems, whereas the main reason for women was stress, depression and anxiety.

During 2010 as a whole, women had higher sickness absence rates than men in both the public sector (3.1% compared with 2.1% for men) and in the private sector (2.6% compared with 2% for men).

ONS statistician Jamie Jenkins said: “There’s been a general decline in the incidence of sickness absence since the beginning of 2000, when it was 3.4%. The analysis also shows differences between men and women, between public and private sectors, and between different age groups, occupations and regions.”

The gap between the public and private sectors was at its widest in the final quarter of 2008. Both public and private sectors have seen a rise in sickness absence since the recession, up from a low point of 1.9% for the private sector and 2.4%  for the public sector in January-March 2009.

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