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Mental problems helping to keep 100,000 young off sick for years

Jill Sherman, January 4, 2008

More than 100,000 young adults have been out of work and on sickness benefit for five years or more, largely because of mental problems, the Government said yesterday.

Figures from the Department for Work and Pensions show that despite Gordon Brown's New Deal programme to get youngsters into work, 120,000 adults aged 18 to 34 have been on incapacity benefit or severe disablement allowance for five years or more.

A further 130,000 have been on the benefit for at least two years.

An analysis of the figures for May 2007 shows that more than a third of the 289,150 adults aged 25 to 34 have been on benefits for more than five years, with average payments of £81.35 a week. Unemployment benefit (jobseeker's allowance) is £59.15 a week for those over 25. while incapacity benefit rises from £61 for the first 28 weeks off work, to £72 for the first year and £81.35 after a year.

In total 504,000 people under 35 were claiming incapacity benefit in May, compared with 443,000 claiming jobseeker's allowance, the data showed.

Successive governments have tried to reduce the numbers on sickness benefits through stricter criteria and medical assessment. This week Mr Brown announced measures to tackle long-term joblessness and help the sick and hard cases to get back into work.

Although the numbers have fallen since 2001, the figures still show huge numbers of unemployed young people, with an increasing proportion presenting with mental and behavioural disorders.

In the past many workers doing labouring and manufacturing work had claimed benefit because of muscular problems such as severe backache. Experts argue that a second generation of claimants is coming on to benefit because of mental reasons related to hopelessness, stress and depression. A spokesman for the DWP said that 300,000 of the 504,000 young people claiming sickness benefit last May had mental and behavioural disorders.

Sue Christoforou of Mind, the mental health charity, said that society was faster paced, the workplace more competitive and there were more short-term contracts, which all placed extra stress on workers.

Paul Bivand, a welfare-to-work expert at Inclusion, a think-tank, said: "There is a second generation of people coming onto incapacity benefits for mental reasons. This may well be related to ingrained hopelessness."

Karen Graham, head of incapacity benefit at Reed in Partnership, a welfare-to-work company used by the Government, emphasised the difficulty many young jobless people faced, especially those caught up in a generational cycle of worklessness. "There are families that have never worked, and where there is a culture of not working that has a significant impact on young people," she said.

The DWP defended the Government's attempts to tackle the problem. "The numbers on incapacity benefit is falling after two decades of substantial growth and is the lowest it has been for seven and a half years," said a spokesman.

He added: "The new employment and support allowance, which will replace incapacity benefits from October 2008, will help drive forward further reductions in incapacity benefit levels by extending the support we offer to those that face barriers to work whilst changing the focus to what work a person can do, rather than what they can't."

See also:
Left-handers more at risk of mental illness
Cocaine and cannabis use

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