Long term sickness absence is estimated to cost UK businesses £4.17 billion a year, with mental illness representing £1.17 billion.

A new report from the Centre of Economics and business research (Cebr) has estimated that 1 in 4 people now experience mental health problems causing over 70 million working days to be lost a year.

It suggests the cost of long term sickness is a growing problem. It has increased from £3.13 billion in 2012 and is estimated that the cost will increase by 15% to £4.81 billion by 2030.

Peter O’ Donnell, chief executive of Unum, which commissioned the report, said: “Long-term sickness absence is prevalent amongst the UK workforce; 1 in 10 people will be unable to work for more than 6 months due to illness or injury during their working life, and the average absence lasts 7 years. Arguably, with fewer members of staff, small and medium sized business are harder hit by the impact of a long-term absence.

“Ensuring your employees are healthy and happy isn’t just the right thing to do — it also has a direct impact on the bottom line.”

The research demonstrated that providing support at the first signs of a health problem before it becomes too serious, will reduce the duration and cost of long term sickness. Early intervention can reduce the average length of absence by 17%.

Mr O’Donnell, added: “An effective, cost efficient way to do this is through investing in a GIP plan with access to early intervention services, which helps employers step in when an employee shows the first signs of having a health problem, before it becomes more serious.