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Long Covid sufferers lose £1,100 pay a month

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Long Covid sufferers forced to take time off work due to the illness are each losing around £1,100 a month in unpaid earnings, research shows.

Analysis undertaken by independent think tank the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) suggested around one in 10 people living with long Covid symptoms, including severe exhaustion and lack of energy, are off work at any one time.

This equates to around 110,000 people not working at all because of the post-viral syndrome on any given day in the year, at a cost of almost £1.5bn in lost earnings.

Long Covid is defined as reporting symptoms more than four weeks after infection. The numbers affected has been on the rise.

According to the latest Office for National Statistics figures, almost two million people reported having the condition as of May 2022, around double the number a year before.

Its effects can be persistent, with evidence of sufferers still missing from work at least three months after infection, though by the six-month mark the effects are considerably smaller and most have returned to work.

Tom Wernham, research economist at the IFS and an author of the report, said: “Though acute Covid is no longer the severe threat to public health and the economy that it once was, the impact of long Covid has continued to grow.

“For a significant minority of sufferers, the condition has severe effects not only on their health but on their ability to do paid work.”

Poorer households more likely to have long Covid

Wernham said the majority of those unable to work were on long-term sick leave rather than having lost their job but that, worryingly, it was poorer households who were more likely to have a long Covid sufferer than more well-off families.

“The rising rate of long Covid cases could therefore put additional strain on families during the cost of living crisis,” he said. “Is it also acting as drag on a struggling economy.”

The report showed that pre-pandemic, those now suffering from long Covid were more likely to be claiming benefits, at 41% versus 28% of people who haven’t been affected by lingering symptoms.

It also found 25% of sufferers were in poverty before the pandemic struck compared to 19% of non-sufferers and 25% were living in social housing compared to 17% of those who had avoided long Covid.

Previous research has shown that women, those with pre-existing medical conditions and those in poorer parts of the country were more likely to be hit with the condition but the IFS said this is the first evidence showing that long Covid is more prevalent among deprived individuals.

Disability and discrimination

Last month the Scottish Employment Tribunal ruled that an employee who lost his job after being unable to work because of long Covid should be considered disabled under the Equality Act 2010. Consequently, he was able to claim the company had discriminated against him.

While the decision isn’t binding for other employment tribunals, there is pressure from action groups to treat all sufferers fairly.

Though many people with long Covid are classed as disabled under the Equality Act, meaning legally their bosses must introduce reasonable adjustments to support them and make sure they don’t face discrimination, this law doesn’t apply to all sufferers.

TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said: “Not everyone has these vital protections. Ministers must urgently recognise long Covid as a disability to make sure that all working people with the condition are formally protected by employment law.”

The union has asked the government to recognise Covid-19 as an occupational disease, which would entitle employees to protection and compensation if they contracted the virus while working.

Covid fear

Ian Ranger, head of group insurance claims at Canada Life – the largest workplace protection provider in the UK – said long Covid is now the third highest cause of referral this year.

“We are finding that individuals suffering from long Covid are not only struggling physically, but may also have issues from a psychological and cognitive perspective,” he said.

Previous Canada Life research revealed one in four sufferers had experienced a decline in mental health and 15% are or were “afraid” of disclosing long Covid to their employer, fearing it will impact their position. The insurer said 5% have had to quit their job as a result of the virus.

Ranger added: “Employers have a duty of care to their employees and must formulate a plan for how they will support any employees suffering with long Covid. The nature of an individual’s symptoms often mean these returns need to be protracted.

“Simple steps such as considering flexible working arrangements as well as reviewing health and wellbeing benefits, will enable those with long Covid to manage their symptoms and recover quicker, while also lessening the impact on the business.”