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The number of working-age people who are neither working nor seeking work (described as being ‘inactive in the labour market’) due to a reported long-term health condition or disability has risen to 2.6 million. This is higher than at any time since the current data time series started in the early 1990s. As we move into a likely election year we ask: is this something that will count at the ballot box? 

To help answer this question, we have mapped 2021 census data to parliamentary constituencies to compare levels of labour market inactivity in seats that changed hands from Labour to the Conservatives in the 2019 general election to those held by both parties.

We found that the Conservative seats gained from Labour have, on average, a significantly higher rate of labour market inactivity due to long-term health conditions or disability than those the party held. Based on 2021 census data, economic inactivity in the seats taken by the Conservatives from Labour in the 2019 election is 5.2% of the over-16 population compared to 3.5% in those the party held.  

Figure 1

This pattern follows other analysis that has shown the seats that changed hands from Labour to Conservative in 2019 were more likely to be in more deprived areas and have worse health.

Wider patterns of labour market inactivity

2021 Census data can provide information about labour market inactivity by constituency. Labour market inactivity in the over-16 population due to a long-term health condition or disability for England and Wales as a whole runs at 4.2%. Levels of economic inactivity due to ill health by constituency range from 1.6% (Wimbledon, Conservative hold) to 10.2% (Liverpool, Walton, Labour hold). Before the 2019 election, Conservative seats with lower-than-average economic inactivity due to ill health heavily outweighed those with above-average levels.

29% of seats Labour held at the 2019 election seats are below national average, compared to 77% of the Conservative holds. Of the seats that changed hands from Labour to Conservative, 83% are above national average for economic inactivity due to ill health.

Typically, seats held by the Conservatives in 2019 tend to have much lower rates of economic inactivity than those they won from Labour, as Table 1 shows.

Table 1: Constituencies with the highest rate of labour market inactivity due to ill health by result at 2019 general election

Rank (highest to lowest) Labour hold Conservative gain from Labour Conservative hold
1 Liverpool, Walton 10.2% Blackpool South 8.3% Blackpool North and Cleve 7.1%
2 Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney 9.3% Vale of Clwyd 7.0% Walsall North 6.4%
3 Birkenhead 9.3% Great Grimsby 6.8% Plymouth, Moor View 6.2%
4 Blaenau Gwent 9.1% Burnley 6.7% Clacton 6.2%
5 Rhondda 9.0% Stoke-On-Trent North 6.4% Mansfield 6.2%
6 Cynon Valley 8.9% Hyndburn 6.3% Torbay 6.1%
7 Knowsley 8.6% Bolsover 6.2% Stoke-On-Trent South 6.1%
8 Aberavon 8.6% Bishop Auckland 6.1% Great Yarmouth 6.1%
9 Easington 8.4% Birmingham, Northfield 6.0% Telford 6.0%
10 Liverpool, West Derby 8.3% Sedgefield 6.0% Hastings and Rye 5.9%

Source: Health Foundation analysis using ONS, Census 2021

However, there are still a number of Conservative-held seats where economic inactivity is also high. The very highest are within seats held by Labour. This suggests that going into the next election the health and employment chances of the working age population should be a priority for both parties.

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