Post-Pandemic Crisis: Millions Out of Work, Students Skipping School

The UK faces a post-pandemic crisis with 2.8 million people out of work due to long-term sickness, with women accounting for 59% of the rise. Chronic absenteeism in schools has also risen by 75%, with pupils increasingly skipping school on Fridays.

Aqsa Younas Rana
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Post-Pandemic Crisis: Millions Out of Work, Students Skipping School

Post-Pandemic Crisis: Millions Out of Work, Students Skipping School

The United Kingdom is grappling with a post-pandemic crisis in work and education, as a staggering 2.8 million people are out of work due to long-term sickness and pupils are increasingly skipping school on Fridays. The Trades Union Congress (TUC) reports that the number of women who are economically inactive due to long-term sickness has surged by 503,000 (+48%) over the last five years to 1.54 million, the highest number since records began.

Why this matters: The post-pandemic crisis in work and education has far-reaching implications for the UK's economic growth and social stability. If left unaddressed, this crisis could lead to a significant decline in productivity, increased healthcare costs, and a widening gap in educational attainment.

Women account for 59% of the rise in economic inactivity due to long-term sickness over the past five years, while the number of men inactive due to long-term sickness has risen by 37% over the same period. The TUC attributes the sharp rise to a combination of factors, including long NHS waiting lists, cuts to preventative services, low-paid and insecure work particularly affecting women, and welfare reforms that stigmatize people who have become too ill to work.

TUC General Secretary Paul Nowak emphasized the need for action, stating, "We need a proper plan for dealing with the sharp rise in long-term sickness – not cynical gimmicks." He added, "Instead of stigmatising people who are too ill to work, the government should be laser-focused on improving access to treatment and preventing people from becoming too sick to work in the first place."

In the education sector, chronic absenteeism has risen by 75% in 2023 compared to pre-pandemic levels, with a 21% increase in pupils skipping school on Fridays. On average, students need an additional 4.1 months to catch up in reading and 4.5 more months in math by the end of the 2023 school year.

The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has fared better than many other big city districts, with less learning loss and a higher recovery rate compared to other districts in California. Superintendent Alberto Carvalho and his team are employing strategies such as knocking on doors to meet with absent students' caretakers, offering summer programs and enrichment activities, and using data to build equitable support and accountability.

Carvalho stressed the importance of transforming educational systems, stating, "Returning our students back to pre-pandemic status is insufficient. We have a golden opportunity to really transform educational systems as we know them." The district has allocated $120 million to the Black Student Achievement Plan to improve attendance, math, and literacy, and increase enrollment in advanced classes. They have also launched the Family Academy virtual platform to empower parents with information to become more active voices in their children's education.

The post-pandemic crisis has led to a shift towards flexible work arrangements and a reevaluation of the work-life balance. The TUC is urging the government to invest in improving public services, cracking down on insecure work, and addressing chronic staffing shortages across the NHS and social care to tackle the growing issue of long-term sickness. As the UK navigates this challenging landscape, innovative strategies and transformative solutions will be crucial in addressing the root causes of the crisis and building a more resilient future for both work and education.

Key Takeaways

  • 2.8 million people in the UK are out of work due to long-term sickness.
  • Women's economic inactivity due to sickness has surged 48% in 5 years to 1.54 million.
  • Chronic absenteeism in UK schools has risen 75% since pre-pandemic levels.
  • Pupils need 4.1-4.5 extra months to catch up in reading and math by the end of 2023.
  • TUC urges government to invest in public services, tackle insecure work, and address NHS staffing shortages.