Half of Men on Sick Benefit 'Fit to Work'; [Pounds sterling]3BN COST OF CLAIMANTS WHO'VE LOST THE WILL TO GET A JOB
Byline: STEVE DOUGHTY
MORE than half of men who claim incapacity benefit from the state are fit enough to work, a damning Government report claims.
Up to 850,000 of the 1.45 million men claiming the main state benefit could reasonably hold down jobs - saving about [pounds sterling]3bil-lion a year, or two pence on income tax.
More than eight per cent of men between 16 and 64 claim incapacity benefit, but six in every ten of these are really fit enough to work, say researchers at the Government's Economic and Social Research Council.
Evidence of the scale of overpayment comes as Social Security Secretary Alistair Darling plans to curb misuse of the benefits system. Incapacity benefit alone costs the country nearly [pounds sterling]8billion a year, with 2.275 million claiming it.
The research reinforces many critics' beliefs that the benefits system only encourages welfare dependency among millions who have no incentive to work and progressively lose the will or the ability to make their own living.
But the report will also fuel fears of a widening North-South divide, with the clear majority of claimants who could work almost entirely in the North.
In the South East the number of claims is much closer to real levels of disability. Claimants are typically older men who have lost jobs in industries such as coal or steel in the 1980s and 1990s, many of whom have pensions from their old jobs to give them a comfortable life when added to the incapacity benefit.
The analysis was carried out by a team of economists and sociologists at Sheffield Hallam University using a survey of 1,700 unemployed and inactive men to flesh out estimates from census findings and Department of Social Security figures.
Researchers Christina Beatty and Stephen Fothergill estimated that between 650,000 and 850,000 men properly classed as unemployed are hidden in the benefit figures.
'What seems to be happening is that for many the move onto incapacity benefit is a one-way ticket,' they said. 'Detachment from the labour market grows, skills become rusty, and the barriers to retrieval sometimes become insuperable.
'At the extreme, some men have not only given up looking for work but also wanting it as well. As a rule the desire to work declines with lengthening duration out of work. …