The effect of social deprivation on local authority sickness absence rates

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Abstract

Background

There is an extensive body of research relating to the association between ergonomic and psychosocial factors on sickness absence rates. The impact of deprivation on health indices has also been extensively investigated. However, published research has not investigated the extent of any association between standard measures of deprivation and sickness absence and ill-health retirement rates.

Aim

To establish if a relationship exists between standard measures of deprivation, used by the UK central government to determine regional health and social welfare funding, and sickness absence and ill-health early retirement rates in English local government employers.

Methods

Local authority sickness absence rates for 2001–02 were regressed against the 2004 Indices of Multiple Deprivation in a multiple regression model that also included size and type of organization as independent variables. A second model using ill-health retirement as the dependent variable was also estimated.

Results

In the full regression models, organization size was not significant and reduced models with deprivation and organization type (depending on whether teachers were employed by the organization or not) were estimated. For the sickness absence model, the adjusted R2 was 0.20, with 17% of the variation in sickness absence rates being explained by deprivation rank. Ill-health retirement showed a similar relationship with deprivation. In both models, the deprivation coefficients were highly significant: for sickness absence [t=−7.85 (P=0.00)] and for ill-health retirement [t=−4.79 (P=0.00)].

Conclusions

A significant proportion of variation in sickness absence and ill-health retirement rates in local government in England are associated with local measures of deprivation. Recognition of the impact of deprivation on sickness absence has implications for a number of different areas of work. These include target setting for Local Government Best Value Performance Indicators, history taking in sickness absence consultations and the role of deprivation as a confounding factor in sickness absence intervention studies.

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