NEW labour market figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that unemployment and economic inactivity are rising, while employment is falling. The number of people not participating in the labour market due to long-term and short-term illness has exceeded 3 million for the first time since records began.

Chris Thomas, head of the Commission on Health and Prosperity at the Institute of Public Policy Research, said: “A perfect storm of an NHS crisis, poor public health – driven by mouldy housing, toxic air and a broken food system – and among the highest health inequalities of any comparable country have made the UK the literal ‘sick man of Europe’. And that is doing profound harm to our national economy.

“It is time for this government to recognise that better health is the clearest, untapped path to prosperity. Today’s vote to create a smoke-free generation offers a major opportunity. But ministers need to go further and faster to create a healthier, more prosperous nation.”

The TUC pointed out that if pay had grown at the pre-financial crisis rate, the average worker would be earning £14,700 more a year. Commenting on the new data, TUC General Secretary Paul Nowak said: “Working people have suffered the longest pay squeeze in more than 200 years thanks to the Conservative government. Living standards are still on the floor. And now unemployment is rising – a real worry for families needing work and young people looking for their first job.

“We need a fresh start with a proper plan for jobs and growth to make sure family incomes can recover and everyone feels secure at work.”

On the new record high for people out of work due to long-term sickness, Paul added: “NHS waiting lists are near record levels. But instead of taking responsibility, the Tories are attacking people who are too sick to work. The nasty party is back! Our NHS is crying out for the investment needed to get waiting lists back down. When people can access treatment faster, they will return to work sooner.”

* Read the ONS statistical release here.

* Sources: Trades Union Congress  and Institute for Public Policy Research