Number of lengthy sickness absences decreased in 2020

A total 294,568 persons received sickness allowance payments from Kela in 2020. The number of recipients declined after having increased for the past few years. The decline is estimated to be due to the various effects of the COVID-19 epidemic. The number of recipients decreased by about 10,000 (3 percent) from 2019. 

Women accounted for 60% of the recipients, and about two thirds were aged 40 or over.  In the non-retired, working-age population between 16 and 67, 9.2% received sickness allowance payments in 2020.

 

The number of days on sickness allowance declined in 2020

The number of days on sickness allowance (14.5 million in 2020) decreased by 727,000 (about 5 percent) from the previous year. Total expenditure on sickness allowances came to 819 million euros.

Partial sickness allowance was paid in 2020 for 1.46 million days at a total cost of 50 million euros. Partial sickness allowance as a share of the total number of days on full or partial sickness allowance has grown slightly for several years, reaching 9% in 2020.

 

Mental health disorders are now the largest factor behind sickness allowance recipiency

Twenty-six percent of new sickness allowance payments in 2020 were due to musculoskeletal disorders, while 25% were caused by mental health disorders. However, payments linked to mental health disorders are typically longer than average. Mental health disorders accounted for a good third (34%) of the days on sickness allowance, while the share of musculoskeletal disorders was 26%. 

New payments and days on sickness allowance linked to musculoskeletal disorders have declined consistently for more than ten years, and this trend continued in 2020. 

In contrast, the number of payments and days on sickness allowance which are due to mental health disorders have increased, particularly since 2016. Mental health disorders now result in a much higher number of days on sickness allowance and in much larger benefit expenditures than musculoskeletal diseases. The number of days on sickness allowance due to a mental health disorders in 2020 declined at a slower pace than days due to other conditions. At the same time, their share of the total number of days on sickness allowance continued to grow. 

Sickness allowance payments due to mental health disorders have in recent years increased in all age groups, and slightly more among women than among men. Sickness allowance payments linked to mental health disorders among recipients aged 16 to 34 have increased consistently for more than 15 years, though except for the recent years, less markedly in the older age groups. 

Among young people, the majority of sickness allowance payments are due to mental health disorders, while among those aged 50 or over, musculoskeletal diseases predominate.

The largest category of mental health disorders linked with sickness absenteeism and sickness allowance recipiency are depressive disorders, followed by anxiety disorders. The increase seen since 2016 in mental health related sickness allowance payments is almost entirely due to these two categories.  

However, during the pandemic in 2020, the number of sickness allowance payments linked to depressions decreased, whereas payments due to anxiety disorders continued to increase.

Marked occupational and regional differences in sickness absences 

Lengthy sickness absences are more common in manual occupations than in non-manual occupations. 

Sickness allowance payments due particularly to musculoskeletal disorders are more common among persons performing physically demanding work than in other groups. Sickness allowance payments on account of mental health disorders show smaller differences between occupational groups. Among lower non-manual workers, and particularly among women, sickness absences due to mental health disorders are, however, more common than among those in other occupational categories. 

Self-employed persons have fewer sickness absences than wage earners, but they are longer than the average.

The regional differences in lengthy sickness absences are aligned with general regional differences in health: The number of sickness allowance payments is above the average among those living in Northern and Eastern Finland, and below the average in Southern Finland, especially in Uusimaa. The regional differences are also reflected in the distribution of sickness allowance expenditures among the regions.

Long sickness absence is often a precursor to retirement on a disability pension

A good third of all sickness allowance payments lasts more than 30 days (the allowance is paid from Monday to Saturday). Long periods of sickness absence are often a precursor to retirement on a disability pension. Yet even relatively short sickness allowance payments can be predictive of subsequent disability pension retirement several years into the future. 

Retirement on a disability pension is usually preceded by a sickness allowance payment of about 12 months. However, not all who use up their sickness allowance entitlement retire, because their application for a pension may be denied or they may not even file an application. Still, few of those who use up their sickness allowance entitlement return to paid employment.

Sickness allowance as an indicator of lengthy sickness absences

Sickness allowance recipiency is an indicator of the prevalence of long sickness absences in the working-age population. Sickness allowance can be paid to persons between 16 and 67 on account of disability lasting less than a full year, provided that the incapacity lasts longer than the waiting period, which consists of the first day of incapacity and the following nine working days. A partial sickness allowance can be paid to persons who face work capacity related challenges but who can continue working on a part-time basis while registered as disabled for work.

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  • Research: Jenni Blomgren, Research Manager, tel. 050 5522 286
  • Statistics: Siru Keskinen, Information Specialist, tel. 020 634 1372

email: firstname.lastname@kela.fi

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