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Britains Incapacity Benefits Culture Costs Tax Payers £16 Billion Annually- BBC One 8.30pm

Politics / Social Issues May 19, 2008 - 02:44 PM GMT

By: BBC

Politics

The Government will need to make big reductions in the numbers "on the sick" in Britain's former industrial heartlands if it is to get anywhere near its ambitious UK-wide target of a million off Incapacity Benefit by 2015, according to Professor Steve Fothergill of Sheffield Hallam University.

He tells BBC One 's Panorama that in the Incapacity Benefit hotspot of Merthyr Tydfil in South Wales – where nearly one in five of working age population is on the sick – around 3,000 new jobs would have to be created.


Across the South Wales valleys 35,000 new jobs would be required.

And Professor Fothergill and his team have just completed a major research project, interviewing more than 3,000 Incapacity Benefit claimants, that reveals it is not simply job creation that may prevent the Government reaching its target.

The new research has uncovered that nearly two-thirds of Incapacity Benefit claimants have no skills or qualifications at all.

Meanwhile, new figures provided to Panorama by the Department for Work and Pensions estimate the annual cost of paying Incapacity Benefits, plus associated Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit, has reached a staggering £16billion – that is more in a single year than the whole estimated cost of staging the London 2012 Olympics.

However, some Incapacity Benefit claimants have high expectations of what they might earn should they return to work.

Of the minority who said they would like a job, about a third of men and one in six women said they would need at least £300 a week after tax to make it worthwhile coming off Incapacity Benefits and going in to work.

That would mean a job paying around £20,000 a year.

Employment & Welfare Reform Minister, Stephen Timms MP , denies that getting people "off the sick" will lead to an increase in the unemployment figures as those on incapacity benefit simply shift from one benefit to another.

He tells Panorama: "I see no conflict at all between continuing to keep unemployment low and reducing the numbers of people on Incapacity Benefit in the way that we've set out."

Panorama reporter Shelley Jofre meets a number of Incapacity Benefit claimants from Merthyr Tydfil including: Trevor who has been left without a medical assessment for 10 years, Peter and Rita who have recently been shifted from Incapacity Benefits on to Job Seekers allowance, and Calvin who has not worked for 20 years.

The programme examines whether any of them can be persuaded to find a job and, if they can, will any employer be willing to take them on?

Panorama: Britain On The Sick, BBC One, 8.30pm, Monday 19 May 2008 , and online http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer

PH


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