A million work-shy claimants?

Author/s: 
PSE Team

As many as 2.5 million people may be claiming out-of-work benefits on a long-term basis, according to an analysis by the Department for Work and Pensions. And it added that there are just over a million even when those on incapacity benefits are excluded.

The analysis took a snapshot as at 31 March 2012 of those people in Great Britain receiving one of the main working-age benefits, and calculated how many had also being doing so in previous years. The 2.5 million figure relates to those aged 18–59 who had been getting benefits in at least three of the preceding four years. Out of these, around a million were on jobseeker's allowance, employment and support allowance, or income support. A further table in the DWP analysis showed this figure rising since the start of the recession in 2008, and accelerating sharply in the last year – from 732,000 in March 2011 to 1,008,000 in March 2012.

One of the 'key indicators' in the coalition government's social justice strategy is the number of people claiming working-age benefits in three out of four consecutive years.

A day before the analysis was officially published, three Conservative-leaning newspapers ran virtually identical stories to the effect that there are a million people claiming long-term benefits despite being deemed fit to work. The Daily Express – under the headline 'The one million who are FIT TO WORK but live on benefits' – called the figures 'shocking' and said they were 'expected to spark fresh anger... about Britain’s something-for-nothing welfare system'. The Daily Mail said the figures 'will fuel controversy about welfare spending at a time when the Tories are imposing restrictions on what people can claim in state handouts'. The Daily Telegraph said: 'The statistics are likely to add to a coalition row over the growing cost of social security payments, which economists say is hampering efforts to reduce the deficit'.

The TUC pointed out that most of the million people concerned had either been declared as being not yet fit to work by the DWP, or were lone parents with children below school age, who would struggle to find work given the high cost of childcare. Another commentator (Full Fact) tried to quantify these sub-groups, estimating that 187,000 were in the so-called 'WRAG' category on employment and support allowance (those deemed not fit for work at present, and only potentially capable of work in the future), and a further 117,000 were waiting to have their work capability assessed. Even the remaining 700,000, it said, contained other groups such as lone parents who might be physically capable of work but were excluded from the labour market on other grounds. For all these reasons Full Fact was asking the three newspapers concerned to issue a correction to their story.

SourceDuration on Working-Age Benefits, Great Britain, Department for Work and Pensions
LinksReport | Daily Express report | Daily Mail report | Telegraph report | TUC press release | Full Fact blog post

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Publication date: 
Apr 24 2013