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Growing number of long Covid sufferers unable to work costs UK £1.5bn a year

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Long Covid is costing the UK £1.5bn in lost earnings per year as the number of people off work with the condition rises to almost 2 million, according to new research.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) think tank estimated that 110,000 people are absent from work at any time due to long Covid, with those who were on lower incomes before the pandemic more likely to be sufferers.

One in 10 long Covid sufferers who were in employment stop work while they have the condition, the IFS said.

The findings will heap further pressure on the government to tackle a problem which is expected to grow further as infections rise again.

While the health impacts have been known about for some time, detailed work to quantify the economic impact has only emerged more recently.

The Treasury is understood to be increasingly concerned the UK labour force has failed to recover to its pre-pandemic level. There are almost half a million fewer people in work than there were before March 2020, due to a combination of long Covid and more people choosing to take early retirement.

The IFS examined how outcomes have changed since before the pandemic for long Covid sufferers and similar individuals without the condition. Its research showed that sufferers were more likely to be claiming benefits, be in poverty and live in social housing, the IFS found.

Long Covid’s effects are persistent, with an estimated 8 per cent 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.

The condition causes a range of debilitating symptoms including extreme fatigue and shortness of breath, chest pains, dizziness and heart palpitations.

Treatment varies depending on the specific symptoms, with the most severe cases being referred to a specialist rehabilitation service.

Tom Wernham, a research economist at 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 over time, with almost 2 million now suffering from the condition.

“Our research suggests that for a significant minority of long Covid sufferers, the condition has severe effects not only on their health but on their ability to do paid work.

“The rising rate of long Covid could therefore put additional strain on families during the cost of living crisis, especially as long Covid is more common among poorer families, as well as drag on a struggling economy – we estimate there are 110,000 workers missing from work as a result.”

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