The pandemic has produced a big rise in inactivity: numbers are up by 630,000. The biggest drivers are long-term sickness, accounting for 2.5m people, and early retirement, which encompasses over 1m more.
Some of it is entirely legitimate and unavoidable, for instance due to long Covid. But others have opted out of work of their own accord. The pandemic created an increased sense of mortality and the lockdowns led some to believe they could embrace a thriftier life. Work, careers and ambition moved down the list of priorities.
Another concerning development is that, since the pandemic, those who are in work have collectively put in fewer hours.
Doug McWilliams, of the Centre for Economics and Business Research, has looked at hours worked and productivity.
Over three years, there has been a 1.3 per cent fall in hours worked. On the pre-Covid trend, they would have increased by 4.6 per cent.