THE State's bill for covering the cost of sickies could easily wipe out the value of any savings it expects to pass on to hard-pressed taxpayers after securing the €20bn debt deal earlier this month.
Joan Burton's Department of Social Protection spent €774m last year to cover the cost of people who cannot work because they are sick. This is more than the €500m in savings that Finance Minister Michael Noonan said would be passed on to ordinary families in next year's Budget after the Government renegotiated the cost of the bailout of the former Anglo Irish Bank.
The cost of illness benefit has soared since the recession hit, peaking at almost €1bn in 2010. The €774m paid out last year to cover the cost of sickies was about 40 per cent more than it paid out in 2005.
"The costs associated with supporting sick pay rates are unsustainable in Ireland," said industrial relations specialist Brendan McGinty.
"Comparable rates in Britain are half those in Ireland."
While back and neck injuries triggered most of the claims for illness benefit last year, many claims arose from anxiety, depression and stress.
Noeline Blackwell, director general of the Free Legal Advice Centres, said the high incidence of claims for stress-related illnesses reflects the financial pressure many families are under.
"People in debt feel they don't have control over their own lives, and that's a major stress factor," she said.