A third of us are sick – are you protected?

36% of working-age people have a long term health condition – up from 31% in 2019. 2.5 million people are economically inactive because of long term sickness – up 400,000 since the onset of the pandemic. Following usual patterns, the aging population would have meant 40,000 extra people would have been inactive because of long term sickness between 2019 and 2022. In fact 462,000 were.

The ONS has released data on ill health and economic inactivity: Rising ill-health and economic inactivity because of long-term sickness, UK – Office for National Statistics (ons.gov.uk)

Sarah Coles, head of personal finance, Hargreaves Lansdown said: “Nobody wants to consider the possibility they’ll ever get sick. It’s why we tend to make plans for a long, healthy, active life and try to forget about any alternatives. Unfortunately, with a third of people carrying a long-term health condition, and 2.5 million who are too sick to work, it means there’s every chance you’ll need a plan B.

The rise of sickness absence means we all need to consider what would happen if we were too sick to work. This includes looking at what you might get from your employer, in terms of sick leave for shorter illnesses and income protection if you’re off for longer periods. If it’s nothing to write home about, you may need to consider personal cover – like personal income protection, which will cover a proportion of your income for a period if you’re too ill to work.

The good news is that the HL Savings & Resilience Barometer shows 77% of people have enough of this cover in place. However, among self-employed people this falls to 33%, among the lowest earners it drops to 23%, and among those aged 20-24 it’s only 62%. You could also consider critical illness cover. This is a lump sum that pays out on the diagnosis of specific illnesses. Only 22% of people have this insurance, according to the Barometer, and they tend to be focused within the top two fifths of earners.

If you are unable to work for a period, your emergency savings safety net can also provide vital support. It’s why those of working age should have 3-6 months’ worth of essential expenses in an easy access account, just in case. The Barometer shows that almost two thirds of us have enough emergency savings (64%). However, lower earners, singletons, and younger people are more likely to fall short. Only 31% of those aged 20-24 and 56% of those aged 35-39 have enough savings to be resilient.

You also need to think about your pension, and whether you could make it stretch if you were forced to stop work earlier than planned because of ill-health. Unfortunately, this is likely to be an uncomfortable calculation for many people, because the latest HL Savings and Resilience Barometer found that only 39% of households are on track for a moderate retirement income – down from 42% just six months ago. It means that if most of us were forced to retire earlier, our pensions would fall even further short.


The key is not to see your position and panic. Consider whether you can afford to boost pension contributions to put you in a better position further down the line. If that’s too much of a stretch right now, you could make sure that next time you receive a pay rise, or a lump sum, you consider your pension as a priority. You can also think about any other assets you could call on at that point – and whether you would need to dip into savings or the value of your property. It’s not an ideal approach, but it’s only going to kick in if you’re too sick to work, in which case you won’t be looking for ideal – just the best possible outcome in horrible circumstances.”