The government’s failure to support people with long Covid could be adding billions of pounds a year pounds to the benefits bill, Labout has warned.
Sir Keir Starmer’s party said Rishi Sunak and his ministers had “no plan” to help those suffering from ongoing symptoms, including fatigue, headaches, muscle aches and palpitations.
Worklessness due to long Covid could be costing £3bn a year in sickness benefits, according to Labour analysis shared with The Independent.
The party pointed to ONS data showing that 370,000 people whose ability to do day-to-day activities have been “limited a lot” by long Covid – saying they may be eligible for Universal Credit of up to £689.19 a month.
“Long Covid has forced more people out of work with devastating consequences for their livelihoods,” said Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary.
He added: “This is a serious problem and growing as time passes, yet the Tories have no plan. Ministers have no plan to help the record numbers out of work for long-term sickness, and instead are leaving workers on the scrap heap and giving taxpayers the bill.”
Earlier this month, the Office for Budgetary Responsibility (OBR) projected that spending on health and disability-related benefits is set to cost an extra £8.2bn a year.
And a report by the Lords’ economic affairs committee found that long Covid and a wave of early retirement following the pandemic are key factors behind Britain’s “bleak” labour shortages.
Mr Sunak is set to encourage more over-50s who have taken early retirement to come back to work with a “midlife MOT” identifying opportunities for part-time or flexible work.
Labour has promised to tackle the links between ill health and joblessness as part of its employment reform plans – including more specialist help and a pledge to devolve job support budgets to local areas.
“Labour has a plan to get Britain working again with more integrated employment and health support to help the economically inactive find work,” said Mr Ashworth – adding that Labour would create more jobs “in local areas”.
A total of 2.2 million people across the UK have self-reported having long Covid, the latest ONS survey shows – with almost 600,000 of them likely to have first had the virus at least two years ago.
Long Covid symptoms have hit the day-to-day activities of 1.6 million people, with 370,000 reporting that their ability to undertake such activities had been “limited a lot”, the ONS found earlier this month.
Opposition MPs and campaigners have urged the government to classify Long Covid as an occupational illness, provide formal guidance to employers and boost funding for research into treatment.
Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Covid, said the failure to “properly address it will continue to devastate lives, damage our economy and cripple public services”.
The Department for Health and Social Care was contacted for comment.