Farmers urged to protect themselves as long-term sick rates hit record high

In agriculture, figures show 12,000 workers suffered from work-related ill health between 2019 and 2022
In agriculture, figures show 12,000 workers suffered from work-related ill health between 2019 and 2022

Farmers have been told to protect themselves from unforeseen time off after ONS figures revealed a record number of UK workers are currently off with long-term illnesses.

This week’s data shows 2.5m workers in the UK are now economically inactive because of long-term sickness and a further 185,000 are off with temporary sickness.

In agriculture, figures from the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) show 12,000 workers suffered from work-related ill health between 2019 and 2022.

There were 11,000 non-fatal injuries to workers during the same period, the safety watchdog's figures show.

Responding to the figures, NFU Mutual said serious illnesses and accidents could leave farmers "unable to work, impact production, and in some scenarios put the farm’s long-term viability at risk".

However, the rural insurer said there were "valuable safety nets" available to farmers that could help keep the farm running.

David Nottingham, protection expert at NFU Mutual, said farmers "know better than most" that unexpected events could have a major impact on their business.

“Unforeseen illnesses and accidents can put a strain on the farm, particularly if it is heavily reliant on one or two people," he explained.

“But there are a number of ways to guard against those problems and provide a lump sum of cash or an income to secure the future of the farm and help keep it running.”

NFU Mutual explained that 'critical illness cover' gives out a lump sum of cash if someone is diagnosed with a serious illness specified under the cover.

It can be used to repay farm borrowings, pay for home adaptations, or meet other commitments that may be needed.

In the UK, latest figures show there is £1.2bn paid out in critical illness cover a year, more than 90% of claims are accepted, and the average pay-out was nearly £68,000.

Farmers can also use 'income protection' to provide a regular income if they are incapacitated and unable to work, whether that’s through illness or accident, NFU Mutual said.

HSE figures show there were around 6,000 work-related cases of musculoskeletal conditions in agriculture between 2019 and 2022, affecting one in 50 workers, higher than workers in other industries.

According to the Association of British Insurers, income protection claims for musculoskeletal conditions increased 40% in the UK during 2021.

NFU Mutual said that farmers in partnerships can also use life insurance and critical illness to protect the business.

Mr Nottingham said: “Those that co-own businesses need to consider what would happen if a co-owner died or became seriously ill.

“They or their family may want to sell their interest in the business. Putting in place the right cover and agreements can help the continuing owners retain control of the business and protect the outgoing owner and their family.

“It’s important to speak with a professional financial adviser who understands agriculture and your business to plan effectively.”