An estimated 960,000 UK employees are on sick leave for a month or more each year, according to analysis by the Department for Work and Pensions.
Its Long-term sickness absence analysis looked at information from the Office for National Statistics’ Labour force survey, specifically at figures published between October 2010 and September 2013.
The analysis, which categorises long-term absences as those lasting for more than four weeks, was carried out in response to public interest in long-term sickness absence, and precedes the launch of the government’s Health and Work Service, expected in 2014, which aims to support long-term sickness absentees.
It found that the most common causes of long-term absence were either musculoskeletal (cited by 33% of long-term absentees) or mental health (20%) issues.
England had the most recorded cases of long-term sickness absence each year, with 815,000, followed by 95,000 in Scotland and 50,000 in Wales.
In England, the north west and south east accounted for the largest proportion of sickness absence, with 120,000 each.
The analysis also found that 62% of long-term absentees had one or more long-term health conditions.
Almost half (46%) of long-term absentees were aged 50 or over, compared to 27% of the employee population overall.
The sectors with the largest proportion of long-term sickness absence across the UK were public administration, education and health (41%), distribution, hotels and restaurants (17%), manufacturing (12%), and banking, finance and insurance (12%).
The launch of the Health and Work Service will be funded by the abolition of the stautory sick pay percentage threshold scheme on 6 April 2014.