Spotty And Dizzy

BBC correspondent doubts

We currently spend some £26bn pa on incapacity, disability and injury benefits. We have 2.7m people of working age drawing IB.

Everybody agrees* that many recipients are claiming for pretty dubious reasons (eg see this blog), and this morning we get some more detail:

"Almost two thousand people who are too fat to work have been paid a total of £4.4 million in benefit. Other payments went to fifty sufferers of acne.

More than £2 billion was paid in 2006-07 for mental health complaints, including £518 million to those with what are described as “unknown and unspecified” diseases.

Overall more than £1.1 billion was paid to people suffering from a depressive episode plus a further £276 million to the estimated 116,000 claimants with “other anxiety disorders” and £122 million to the estimated 50,000 suffering from a “reaction to severe stress”.

A total of 15,600 people received benefits for “malaise and fatigue” and a further 8,100 for “dizziness and giddiness”. The figures disclose that 4,000 claimants had headaches, 2,700 migraines and 1,890 suffered from eating disorders. About £100,000 in benefits went to those with acne and a similar amount to 60 people with “nail disorder”. Nausea and vomiting cost £2 million in benefits for 900 people."

The reboubtable Frank Field comments:

“It is a racket, which governments have allowed to exist for far too long. I do not blame people for working the system, it is the job of politicians to stop them doing it.

The big change over the last decade has been into illnesses which largely defy a clear medical classification: depression, dizziness and such. It is a move from the tangible illness to the intangible.”

The proportion claiming for difficult to diagnose mental ailments has doubled over the last decade, to an eye-watering 40%.

Of course, if you were unemployed in the North East, you might claim it too. Because incapacity benefits contine to be higher than the alternative Jobseekers Allowance. Yet another of Whitehall's perverse incentives.

*Footnote- When we say everybody agrees about dubious IB claims, we should exclude Kim Catcheside, the BBC's social affairs correspondent. This morning Humphrys asked her about the one million people claiming IB who are capable of work, and she reckoned she was not familiar with the figure. We think it probably comes from the Department for Work and Pensions 2005 report A new deal for welfare: Empowering people to work. "We should aspire to reduce the number of incapacity benefits claimants by 1 million over the course of a decade" (para 15). True, that doesn't mean DWP reckons it can get existing claimants off IB. It's more a case of reducing the number of new younger claimants coming onto IB to replace those dropping off through hitting pension age (the cohort effect).

Update- Kim Catcheside has been in touch with us following this post. She feels we misinterpreted what she said, and on reflection, we agree. She is of course fully aware of the DWP paper, and its aspirational target of reducing IB recipients by 1m. But that's not the same as DWP saying 1m existing recipients are false claims. And we can see that. Yet at the same time, the way ministers present this figure, they make it sound like they're mounting a massive crack-down to get 1m workshy scroungers off benefits and back to work. Sure, the DWP smallprint explains what's really happening, but that's not the headline ministers apparently want to see in the Sun and Mail.
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