Cost of living crisis could be factor in 'incredibly high' Leeds City Council mental health absences

The cost of living crisis has been cited as a possible factor in the rise in sickness among council staff in Leeds.

By David Spereall, Local Democracy Reporting Service
Tuesday, 21st June 2022, 4:30 pm

An average 11.3 working days per employee was lost to illness among Leeds City Council’s workforce between April 2021 and March 2022, with mental health accounting for more than a third of absences.

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It represents an increase of 2.3 days, from just over nine days for 2020/21.

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The council’s head of HR said that stress about the cost of living, as well as Covid infections, may have contributed to the rise. Credit: Jonathan Gawthorpe

The council’s head of HR said that stress about the cost of living, as well as Covid infections, may have contributed to the rise.

The issue was discussed at a scrutiny meeting which heard mental health sickness which accounted for 34 per cent of lost days.

Labour councillor Sharon Burke described the figures for as 'incredibly high'.

In response, chief HR officer Andy Dodman said: “You are right about that.

“Mental health is the highest reason for sickness absence.

“That’s not new, but we have seen an increase over the last two years and I’m sure that’s partly because of the Covid effect, but also other anxieties people are having, whether that’s workload pressures, cost of living, all sorts of pressures and anxieties people are facing in their daily lives.”

Mr Dodman said that rates of absence attributed to mental health varied greatly across different departments within the council.

As a result, he said the authority's HR team was now offering more tailored and focused help in areas where rates were high.

He told councillors: “Mental health sickness absence is very low in some areas and we’ve always offered very generic support.

“So we’re now changing that so we can focus our resources in areas where it’s at its highest and more problematic.”

Musculo-skeletal problems, which would include broken bones, bad backs and neck injuries, was the second most common cause of sickness over the year, accounting for 17 per cent of absence.

That was followed by Covid, which was to blame for just under 15 per cent of days lost and then heart and blood pressure issues, which accounted for just over three per cent.