Work Foundation reports extent of UK incapacity benefit problem

The UK's current employment statistics mask the hidden unemployment of people on incapacity benefits. However, according to the...

The UK's current employment statistics mask the hidden unemployment of people on incapacity benefits. However, according to the Work Foundation, the Budget's emphasis on regional flexibility, as well as regional and urban renewal offers a real opportunity to tackle the issue.

A recent submission to the Work and Pensions Select Committee by the Work Foundation and the Wise Group, a charity that helps unemployed people back into work, highlighted the extent of incapacity benefit in the UK.

There are currently 2.7 million people of working age claiming incapacity benefits, which is more than the combined total of lone parents and unemployed people on benefits.

Between 1979 and 2002 the number of people receiving incapacity benefits tripled, and once someone has received benefits for 12 months, the average duration of their claim is eight years.

In 1994/1995 25% of men between the ages of 60 and 64 received incapacity benefits. Of these, 18% were claiming for mental disorders, and the highest increase between 1980 and 1994 was for depressive disorders.

The Work Foundation's submission said, "The emergence of mass unemployment, de-industrialisation and the changing geography of UK economic activity all took place at more or less the same time as the rise in incapacity benefit receipt; and it is difficult to deny a connection between these phenomena.

"It is surely no surprise that the areas hardest hit by industrial decline are also the ones most likely to see high levels of inactivity. These are the regions where the inactive, discouraged older workers are most likely to reside. In such cases incapacity benefit or disabled living allowance might seem like a reasonable stopgap between work and retirement."

However, while boosting employment in deprived parts of the country is a way forward, the Work Foundation and the Wise Group also highlighted how difficult it can be to move people off incapacity benefit and into jobs.

This is a complex process and a "one size fits all" approach to welfare-to-work policy is not going to be effective, they said.

The good news is that there are examples across the country where other approaches to this complex problem are working. These include using intermediate labour markets to help people make the transition from benefits to work by developing employability skills through a period of temporary work.

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