Female incapacity benefit claimants treble in past 30 years to more than 1 million

A new report has identified key factors in the rise in female incapacity benefit claimants.

There has been a threefold rise in the number of women claiming incapacity benefit since the early 1980s, a report out yesterday has revealed. 1.1 million women are now in receipt of incapacity benefit (IB), at a cost of £6.5 billion.

The study gives a more complete idea of the factors which influence the claiming of IB.

Analysis of previous data found a huge increase in the number of working-age women claiming IB in England, Scotland and Wales since 1981. It also found a big difference between the number of claimants in different parts of the UK.

The report identifies four factors which could have contributed to the rise in female IB claimants:

• Hidden unemployment: The women who could have been expected to work in a fully employed economy – around 430,000;

• Rising labour force participation: This has led to around 125,000 claims by women;

• An ageing population: The likelihood of claiming IB increases with age as health gets worse with age. This has led to around 35,000 claims; and

• A diversion of lone parents from Income Support: This has led to around 125,000 claims by women.

There is little evidence that any deterioration in the underlying health of the working age population has contributed to the increase in IB claims among women. The survey found that almost all women on IB have some disability or are in poor health, although only a quarter of those surveyed said the couldn’t do any work.

Men were also surveyed, allowing the findings to be applied to men as well as women, although there were less men surveyed than women. Interviews were carried out with 73 of the women surveyed; they were chosen to reflect claimants from a wide range of households, and women with a range of goals for the work market.

In addition, 41 interviews were carried out with professional stakeholders such as Jobcentre Plus staff, providers of employment support, retraining and rehabilitation, GPs, public health officials and medical officers with DWP, the interviews with GPs and benefit officers revealing that both groups now encourage people to work wherever possible.

The findings suggest that IB claimants who are interested in working or returning to work need support in several ways. These include suitable training, physical and mental rehabilitation and financial advice. It is to be hoped that all relevant government ministers will read the report and take note of the findings.

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