Taxpayers are forking out more than £16bn a year for people claiming sickness benefit, up nearly one fifth on last year’s numbers, according to figures from the Department for Work and Pensions.
According to the BBC’s Panorama programme on Monday (19 May 2008), the cost of paying incapacity benefits to those who claim they are too ill to work has risen dramatically in the past year.
Employment advisers claim that two of every three claimants, estimated at close to two million, are in fact able to work. Half a million of those are under the age of 35.
Of the excuses used, many said they have bad backs, which is difficult for doctors to disprove on sicknotes. Others claim they suffer from mental or behavioural disorders like stress. More than 100,000 are considered too ill to work due to a heavy use of drugs or alcohol.
The benefit system will undergo a shake-up in October when incapacity benefit is replaced by the employment and support allowance, which will force claimants to undergo tougher medical tests focusing on what work they are able to do. Currently, testing is for what they cannot do, and the changes are expected to be so effective that half of the current applicants will not qualify for the allowance.
Other government figures have shown that someone on benefit for one year is likely to stay on it for eight years, and those who have been claiming for two years are more likely to die or retire than ever to work again.