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‘Ill health costs the economy £100 billion’, according to Carol Black, the national director for health and work. Such a turn of phrase is commonplace, and the semantics aren’t likely to raise any eyebrows. Unless we look a little closer, that is.
We can presume it means that the economy is £100 billion worse off because of people taking sick days. But why does this mean ill health costs the economy? What (or who) is this economy that is missing out on something? On what grounds it is owed that money in the first place?
We certainly wouldn’t say that being creatures in need of sleep costs the economy, because the economy is not something that is owed our blessed hours in the sack. Neither would we say that not working at the weekend (nor after we are dead) ‘costs’ the economy.
Very well, being sick and out of work is something we would rather avoid for everyone, but it doesn’t look like it’s going away any time soon. We are not in the service of the economy such that we owe it for being unable to work.
Am I splitting hairs? Perhaps a little. But we should not underestimate the power and influence of the language we use to shape the world around us, as well as out own ideals and values. By suggesting that the economy is of the kind that can incur costs we elevate it and give it status and authority. We idolise it.
I agree we’d all be better off if there was less sickness, but not because – at least not primarily because – the ‘economy’ would be richer, but because, well, we wouldn’t be sick.