Young British people claim more disability

Young British people claim more disability

Depression sufferer
Young people are more likely to be claiming benefits for mental health problems. Photograph: Getty

Young people in the UK are twice as likely as their counterparts in other rich countries to be so seriously ill or incapacitated that they cannot work and must live off disability benefits, an international study on welfare has found.

The Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said it was an “extremely worrying fact” that among 20- to 34- year-olds, rates for disability payments are around 2% in most countries, but 4% in the UK.

” If you are in your early 20s on long-term benefit, then the likelihood is that you will stay on benefits for many years. It is a major concern [in the UK],” said John Martin, the OECD’s director of employment, labour and social affairs.

The government said it did not know what types of people were on incapacity benefit, and that was why it was trialling controversial health tests for all sickness benefit claimants in Burnley and Aberdeen.

Chris Grayling, the work and pensions minister, said he thought the high rates in the UK were a result of “more children growing up in workless households than in other parts of Europe. Growing up with high levels of dependency shapes your outlook.”

Around 2 million children live in households where no one works – one in six youngsters in Britain. This rate is almost twice the EU average.

The report says not only are rich-world claimants getting younger, but there has been a “big shift” in the reasons for making a disability benefit claim. Mental health problems have replaced physical causes for long-term sickness payments.

On average, a third of new disability benefit claims have a mental health condition as the primary cause, rising to 40% in some countries and almost 50% in Denmark.

The share of new recipients with mental health problems is highest among young people. In Britain, four-fifths of those claiming benefits because of depression or mental health issues are aged between 20 and 34.

Professor Malcolm Harrington, the occupational health specialist tasked with improving the government’s medical assessments, has told ministers that “people do not attempt to get benefits by pretending they are mentally ill”.

Although the figures do not take into account the effects of the recession, the OECD said there would be little change in the overall trend. Britain had seen a steep rise in the level of the long-term sickness over the past two decades.

In the mid-eighties, the number of people receiving unemployment benefit was “three or four times” higher than those claiming disability benefit. But an inexorable rise in claims saw the number of people on disability benefits exceed the number of unemployed in 1997.

Today 7% of Britons of working age receive disability benefit, above the OECD average of 5.7%. In Japan the comparable figure is less than 2%.

The OECD found that nearly a quarter of British people with a disability live in poverty – slightly higher than the average for the developed world, and twice the level of penury found in the general British population.

“Disability policy has become a key economic policy area in most [developed] countries,” said the OECD. “More and more people are relying on disability and sickness benefits as their main source of income, and employment rates of persons with disabilities are low.”

The thinktank praised the coalition government for continuing where the last government left off in undertaking welfare reform. In many cases, it was being bolder, said the report, by testing claimants and simplifying the benefits system and also by paying private firms to place people back in work.

“Indeed, there is a risk of losing some popularity,” said Aart de Geus, the OECD deputy secretary-general and former Dutch minister who pushed radical welfare reforms in the early part of the last decade.

“We have a saying that you cannot command the wind but you can prepare the boats. That is what the UK government is doing.”

Sources : Guardian-Health

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