British workforce getting older - and sicker

BUPA says sickly staff will be a growing problem for UK plc - unless employers change their ways.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

An ageing workforce is likely to result in some serious productivity issues for UK firms in the next 20 years, according to BUPA. In a new report, the private healthcare provider predicts that the average age of the British workforce is going to rise to 43 by 2030, as people stay in work longer – and that means a larger proportion of us will be affected by chronic diseases. So unless employers pull their fingers out and start taking a greater interest in our health, they could end up paying the price...

BUPA reckons an older workforce will be a sicker workforce; in its report ‘Healthy Work’, it estimates that 4m employees will suffer from diabetes or chronic respiratory diseases like asthma by 2030 (a 7% increase on current levels), another 1m from heart disease (an 11% jump) and 4.2m from mental illness (up 5%). What’s more, an alarming 7m of us will be afflicted by some kind of musculoskeletal complaint. And this could have serious consequences for GDP, given that unhealthy workers are apparently about three times less productive than healthy ones.

The good news is that the Government has cottoned on to this potential health time-bomb – presumably thanks partly to Dame Carol Black’s report last year, which suggested that ill-health in the workforce is already costing the UK more than £100bn a year. Last month it announced that over-40s will soon be entitled to a free health-check, which it claims will save about 650 lives a year – a move welcomed by BUPA, which says that any kind of one-to-one health assessment tends to encourage people to improve their lifestyles.

However, companies might not want to leave this issue to the NHS; after all, they’re the ones who could end up being hit in the pocket. And since we spend so much of our lives in the offices, successful work-based interventions would have a broader impact on public health – which might make Government more likely to throw money at companies to get involved.

Unfortunately we’ll have to wait for the second part of BUPA’s report, out later this year, to learn what it thinks companies can actually do about this – although presumably measures that will help us eat better, quit smoking and take more exercise will be at the top of the agenda. All of this would cost money, of course – but if BUPA is to be believed, it should be an investment worth making.

In today's bulletin:

Gordon Brown gives green light to Budget plans
JD Sports scores 9% profit rise
Much to learn for school managers as closures mount
British workforce getting older - and sicker
MT Breakfast Debate: The silver lining to Recession 2.0

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