Sicknote generation: Half a million under-35s 'too sick to work' are claiming incapacity benefits


Last updated at 00:10 04 January 2008

More than half a million young adults are living on state handouts because they say they are too sick to work.

Figures yesterday revealed that the majority are claiming Incapacity Benefit for "mental and behavioural disorder" - a category of disability that includes claims of stress.

The group of under-35s now outnumber those who are unemployed but who are looking for a job.

The statistics suggest a generation is being lost to Britain's sicknote culture.

Tories said Government attempts to persuade the young unemployed to take jobs had achieved nothing in a decade.

The figures emerged a day after Gordon Brown boasted that ten years of Labour's "new deal" welfare-to-work methods had helped 1.8million who once relied on handouts to find jobs.

So-called "sicknote" benefits are popular among the unemployed because they pay more than benefits such as Jobseekers' Allowance which go to those who are looking for work.

Someone aged between 18 and 24 can get £46.85 a week from Jobseekers' Allowance but £61.35 from the lowest rate of Incapacity Benefit.

Ministers have promised to reform the system to encourage those who can work to take jobs.

Many of the 2.4million claimants have remained on Incapacity Benefit year after year. Among them are large numbers of middle-aged former industrial workers in the North of England who lost jobs in the 1980s.

But the figures for claimants under the age of 35 show the young are helping swell the ranks.

According to the Department of Work and Pensions, around 504,000 under-35s were claiming Incapacity Benefit or Severe Disablement Allowance last summer.

That compares with 443,000 of the same age who class themselves as unemployed and claim Jobseekers' Allowance.

Of those who say they are too sick to work, 296,000 were suffering from "mental and behavioural disorders".

Some 170,000 of the under-35s had been claiming sicknote benefits for more than five years. More than 300,000 had been living on disability benefits for more than two years.

Numbers of young adults on Incapacity Benefit have fallen since the beginning of the decade, the figures show, and are down from 560,000. But the persistence of benefit claiming on a huge scale shows a proportion of the young now expect to live a life on the dole.

Claimants are reckoned by both ministers and their critics to include many people capable of work who choose not to.

Mr Brown is introducing reforms to push some back into work. Changes include renaming Incapacity Benefit as Employment Support Allowance and introducing a medical test to weed out less disabled claimants.

However the tests are expected to move only 20,000 a year off disability benefits and they will apply only to new claimants.

Critics were scathing about the level of claims by young people yesterday. Tory work and pensions spokesman Chris Grayling said: "This government has spent billions and has achieved virtually nothing."

Jill Kirby, director of the Centre-Right think tank Centre for Policy Studies said: "These are people who have been failed by the training and education system and who are not equipped with the skills they need to get jobs."

Officials at the Department of Work and Pensions said reforms to disability benefits would get more people into work.

A spokesman said: "The number on Incapacity Benefit is falling after two decades of substantial growth and is the lowest it has been for seven-and-a-half years."