NFU Mutual is urging farmers to protect themselves as long-term sickness across the industry increases by 11%.

The latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has shown that more than 2.8 million workers across the UK are economically inactive because of long-term illness.

This is an increase of 700,000 in the last three years.

The agriculture sector has seen an increase in the average number of days lost to absence, with statistics from the Sick Leave Report 2024 showing a rise from 230 days in 2022 to an average of 255 in 2023.

The rural insurer said this is worrying, as it is twice the UK average, and highlights the particular dangers associated with the sector.

Over the last four years, long-term sickness in the industry has increased by 44%, a “huge rise” on pre-Covid levels, NFU Mutual said.

Unexpected events and illnesses

Protection expert at NFU Mutual, David Nottingham, said farmers know more than most how unexpected events and illnesses can impact their business.

“While none of us like to think about it, having a safety net in place can make all the difference if the worst should happen,” he said.

“These unforeseen absences can put a huge strain on the farm, particularly if it is one heavily reliant on just one or two people.

“However, there are a number of ways to guard against those problems to help secure the future of the farm and keep it running.”

Critical Illness cover provides a lump sum of cash if you are diagnosed with a serious illness specified under the cover.

It can be used to repay farm borrowings, pay for home adaptions, or meet other commitments farmers may need, NFU Mutual said.

In the UK, last year’s figures show there was £1.2 billion paid out in Critical Illness cover, with almost 92% of claims accepted, and the average pay-out totalling more than £66,000.

For farmers, this can provide a safety net that can be used to keep up payments against borrowings and could also prevent some having to take the painful decision to sell up.

NFU Mutual said Income Protection can offer regular payments if farmers are incapacitated and unable to work due to illness or injury.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said 10,000 people suffered from work-related ill health (new or long-standing) in agriculture, forestry and fishing over the period from 2018/19 to 2022/23.

“Despite safety on farms constantly improving, life is unpredictable and accidents can still happen,” Nottingham said.

“Income Protection can provide the peace of mind that you still have an income so you can get help running the farm in your absence.”