The British worker appears to be adopting a devil-may-care attitude towards being off sick.

Twice as many people think there is only a minimal chance of them becoming sick compared to two years ago, finds research for income protection insurer UNUM.

About 30% of the population think that there is a 5% chance that they will be off work for three months due to illness.

This is twice as many as UNUM's previous survey in 1997 when 15% thought there was only a 5% risk.

But statistics show that one in five UK workers, 20%, will actually be off work for a period of several months at some stage of their working life.

Unum marketing director Eugene McCormack said: “It is worrying to see that the gap between perception and reality has widened over the past three years.”

The survey also asked respondents what would make them take out income protection cover. Government aid (26%) and employer contributions (28%) were cited as the most popular enticements.