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Almost one million people claim mental health benefits since lockdown

woman at doctors mental health
woman at doctors mental health

Almost a million people have started claiming Universal Credit (UC) for mental health problems since the end of lockdown after applications surged by more than 100,000 in just three months.

Figures published by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) show people with mental and behavioural disorders are the biggest driver of so-called UC health claims, cited in 69pc of cases for people who are out of work.

The data showed that from January 2022 to February 2024 there were 978,300 claims linked to mental health conditions, up from 874,000 in the period ending November 2023.

Britain is in the grip of a worklessness crisis, with DWP data also showing 65pc of claims since April 2019 were awarded to people who never have to look for work. Claimants in this category awarded an extra £5,000 a year on top of a standard £5,000-a-year payment.

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Meanwhile, people living in Wales were the most likely to be claiming health benefits without any obligation to look for work.

The data showed that more working-age women are claiming Universal Credit for health reasons than men, though the reverse was the case for people above retirement age.

DWP said 38pc of claimants were aged over 50 and 10pc were under 25.

Of the 2.6 million health claims processed by DWP over this four-year period, 16pc were rejected, while 19pc were classified as “limited capability for work”, meaning they do not receive extra money but less of their benefits are clawed back by the state once they start working.

The Tories want to scrap the so-called work capability assessment that determines UC benefit awards as part of a benefits overhaul aimed at saving £12bn a year by the end of the decade.

Labour also vowed on Thursday to support more people into work. “Too many people are out of work or not earning enough,” it said in its manifesto, blaming “long waits for treatment of health conditions, particularly mental health”

It added: “Our system will be underpinned by rights and responsibilities – people who can work, should work – and there will be consequences for those who do not fulfil their obligations.”

Economists have warned that Britain’s worklessness crisis is threatening growth, with the number of adults neither in a job nor looking for one due to ill health now at a record high of 2.83 million.

Overall inactivity rose to more than 9.4 million in the three months to April, the highest since 2011.

Karen Ward, chief market strategist at JP Morgan and a former adviser to the Treasury, said the crisis meant either party would struggle to meaningfully boost growth over the course of the next parliament.

Ms Ward said: “We’ve got two big problems here in the UK that the rest of the developed world doesn’t have. Businesses for whatever reason won’t invest. The other problem is our participation – this fall that we’ve had in people working – that just isn’t echoed elsewhere.”

Ms Ward said the rise in inactivity was “absolutely” a threat to growth, particularly among younger people which posed a problem that was “really hard to know what to do with”.

She added: “We have an ageing population and we need everyone we can get [to work]”.

It was not clear that bringing down NHS waiting lists would resolve the issue, she warned.

Ms Ward said: “I think [the participation rate] will recover, but it’s not something that is going to recover in the next couple of years. The problem is we are slightly puzzled by what is driving it.”