More likely to die or retire than work again

After two years claiming incapacity benefit, a person is more likely to die or retire than work again, according to research highlighted in a recent report by the West Midlands Regional Observatory.

The Economic Inclusion Baseline Report for the West Midlands (pdf, 1.06mb), shows the facts behind what has become a significant problem for the region.

Incapacity benefit claimants now represent the largest and most persistent group of workless people in the region.

At the end of 2007, even before the downturn hit, 239,000 people were claiming incapacity benefit. This was over double the number claiming unemployment benefits.

Over the past thirty years, the number of people claiming a sickness or disability benefit has tripled, and there are a number of reasons for this dramatic increase.

Evidence shows that claims are concentrated in former industrial areas, where in the past there has been sudden decline in labour demand. This indicates a core of long-term unemployed who may have given up looking for work due to a mismatch between labour supply and demand.

It is known that unemployment and poverty have a negative effect on physical and mental health, and that this has resulted in incapacity benefit claims increasing in the West Midlands. As barriers to employment become more pronounced the longer people are away from the labour market, the problem has become entrenched.

Well over eighty per cent of the region’s 239,000 incapacity benefit claimants have been claiming for over a year. Sixty per cent have been claiming for more than five years. As time goes on, and as skills levels decline, a sustained return to work becomes less and less likely for these people.

Digging deeper into the figures, the research reports that two fifths of incapacity benefits claims are for mental and behavioural disorders. Estimates indicate that the large majority of these are problems like depression, anxiety, stress or other ‘neuroses’, with only a small number having a serious psychiatric illness.

A further fifth are for disorders related to people’s muscles and bones. Again though, it’s estimated that the large majority of these are non-specific back, leg, neck or arm pain, rather than conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.

Rosie Paskins, Chief Executive of the West Midlands Regional Observatory, said:

“The region faces a significant challenge in implementing the government’s planned reforms to welfare benefits and tackling this issue. The reforms are ambitious and could significantly reduce the benefits burden in the region, but the timing of their introduction now coincides with the economic downturn, creating an additional challenge to the proposals.

“The Observatory will work with its partners to tackle this issue, ensuring sound evidence informs our response.”


Notes to Editors:

  • Based at Birmingham’s Millennium Point, the West Midlands Regional Observatory was established in 2002 to provide decision makers with high quality, independent information on the region.
  • The Observatory is the source for West Midlands Regional facts and figures to underpin policy and strategy decisions.
  • Copies of The Economic Inclusion Baseline Report for the West Midlands can be downloaded from (PDF, 1.06mb).
  • The West Midlands Regional Observatory is part financed by the European Regional Development Fund and the European Social Fund.
  • For further information please contact Oliver Nicholls at the Observatory on 0121 503 3313, 07525 703 137 or

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