David Ruffley - MP for Bury St Edmunds, Stowmarket and Needham Market

DWP Press

Daily Mail - 1.1mn on benefits because they aren't happy enough to work

1st February 2007

THE number of benefit claimants who say they can't work because of eating disorders, stress, alcohol abuse, anxiety and mood swings is soaring.

Almost 1.1million are now living on incapacity benefit as a result of mental disorders and behavioural problems.

Those claiming as a result of stress have trebled while the number with eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia has more than doubled since Labour took power.

The number of alcoholics and drug addicts claiming incapacity benefit has increased by 80 per cent - from 76,200 in 1997 to 136,700 last year.

The figures, released yesterday by the Department of Work and Pensions, are likely to prompt calls for drastic reform.

There are fears that incapacity benefit has become an alternative to the Jobseeker's Allowance for the workshy.

More than half a million are now claiming the benefit as a result of 'depressive episodes' - up from 275,000 people in 1997, while those with anxiety disorders have climbed from 85,800 to 115,850.

Claimants citing stress have soared from 16,700 to 49,160 over the last nine years and those with personality disorders have more than doubled from 1,700 to 3,630 in 2006.

When Labour came to power, those using eating disorders as a reason for claiming numbered just

800. The figure has now soared to 1,830 a year.

Those claiming incapacity benefit get paid 59.20 a week for the first 28 weeks and then 70.05 after that more than they would get on Jobseeker's Allowance.

The Tories claimed the figures are an indictment of Labour's failure to provide proper mental health services. The NHS cash crisis means that funding for Community mental health teams is facing the squeeze. Louis Appleby, the National Mental Health Director, has said ministers should be ashamed of the shortfall.

The Government's Welfare Reform Bill, currently going through Parliament, will force incapacity benefit claimants to undergo a more rigorous medical assessment of their ability to work.

Shadow Welfare Reform minister David Ruffley said: 'Under the Bill, the DWP is introducing a new medical test for people claiming incapacity benefit. Ministers should not use this as an excuse to penalise those on benefit with mental health problems who have been let down by Labour's NHS funding crisis.'

A DWP spokesman said: 'The reasons why many people are on incapacity benefit have changed over the last decade.

'These figures are not surprising - they reflect the society that we live in.

' New incapacity benefit applicants are no longer suffering ''traditional'' illnesses such as heavy industrial injuries.

'There is an increase in the number of cases with illnesses that weren't so widely recognised and accepted when incapacity benefit was first set up.'

A Health Department spokesman said: 'It is nonsense to assume that perceived cuts in mental health services have led to more people on incapacity benefits. The Government's vision for mental health is clear - we expect people to be able to access the high quality care and support they need.

'The local NHS is responsible for the configuration of services and we expect them to meet the needs of their local population.' Latest performance figures for New Deal 25 Plus - Labour's scheme for the long-term unemployed - show that only a quarter of women leavers find jobs. Almost a third leaving the programme go straight back onto Jobseeker's Allowance.

Separate figures released yesterday reveal that long-term unemployment is rising among women.

The number aged 25 to 49 out of work for six months has risen by 62 per cent in just three years.