Illness forces quarter of workforce to retire early in Northern Ireland report
Sickness and disability is forcing one in every four people in Northern Ireland out of the workplace early, dramatic new figures have revealed.
Northern Ireland has the highest rate of people in the UK - 24% - quitting work because of ill-health in the five years before they can claim a state pension.
That is twice the UK national average and 10% ahead of regions in second place.
At the opposite end of the scale, only one in 13 workers in the south west of England are jobless because of sickness or a disability in the same period.
Across the UK, one in eight people are forced to stop work before state pension age because of ill-health or disability, the research reveals.
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) report - Postponing the Pension: Are We All Working Longer? - found that nearly half a million (436,000) workers who are within five years of state pension age have had to leave the workplace because of ill-health.
Of the population that is economically inactive, more than half of everyone within five years of picking up their pensions are classified as long-term sick or disabled. Others fall into categories such as studying or caring.
The figure of 53% for Northern Ireland is well ahead of Scotland in second place (38%).
The TUC report also highlighted how workers in lower paid jobs such as cleaning or those in heavy manual jobs are twice as likely as managers or professional staff to stop working before retirement age due to sickness or disability.
General Secretary Frances O'Grady said: "Raising the state pension age is an easy target for chancellors of the exchequer wanting to make stealth cuts.
"But these figures show that we must hold off on any further rises in the pension age until we have worked out how to support the one in eight workers who are too ill to work before they even get to state pension age. We can't expect the sick to wait longer to get a pension when they may need financial support more than ever."
Last night, Ulster Unionist councillor Joan Baird said she was shocked by the revelations.
Ms Baird, who represents a north coast area popular with Northern Ireland pensioners, - the Causeway Coast and Glens council- said there could be a range of factors responsible for Northern Ireland topping the figures. "You could still say the Troubles could still be a factor, people who were maybe injured and high stress levels.
"And you could also say that maybe our Health Service is not just as good as some parts of the UK.
"I am thinking of people with stress and mental health issues.
"And also our poverty levels in Northern Ireland have always been higher than mainland UK so there may be issues in there too. There are other factors - our lifestyle and our diet may not be as good either and those could be directly related to people not having the funds to maybe buy healthier food.
"I don't feel ashamed about it but I think we need to look harder at the reasons behind it and why our ill-health is poor compared to the rest of the UK."