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Page last updated at 15:32 GMT, Friday, 16 May 2008 16:32 UK

Britain on the Sick

Disabled parking bays
Panorama digs beneath the political war of words and reports from Merthyr Tydfil, where nearly one in five people of working age is claiming benefit.

The government claims that work is good for your health and it's aiming to get a million people off benefit and into work by 2015.

But what will it take to get the long-term incapacity benefit claimants off the sofa and into a job?

Panorama investigates why 2.6 million people are 'on the sick' and how the government plans to shift a third of them into jobs.

Reporter Shelley Jofre digs beneath the political war of words and reports from Merthyr Tydfil, where nearly one in five people of working age is claiming benefit. Here's some of the people she met who are 'on the sick'.


Trevor was first signed off from his job 24 years ago

Trevor is a father & grandfather who hasn't worked for 24 years.

He is typical of many people on long term incapacity benefit.

He was first signed off from his job as a tyre fitter 24 years ago with a bad back.

But over the years he's developed more health problems including angina, blood clots and depression.

For the last ten years Trevor has been left alone by the system.


Read the Department of Work and Pensions calculations.

Most computers will open this document automatically, but you may need Adobe Reader
Research shows that once on incapacity benefit for 12 months you're likely to stay on it for eight years (Source: NAO report: Helping People from Workless Households into Work July 07).

He's not had to attend a government medical and under the rules of incapacity benefit there has been no requirement for him to look for work.

Now aged 58 he believes the chances of him ever working again are very slim.

"I can't look for work - it's no good me looking for work if I can't do it"

But will he be made to find work?


Calvin and Karen
Karen and Calvin with their baby son Keane

Calvin and Karen are new parents with 35 years of unemployment between them. But now with a young mouth to feed, they are keen to find jobs.

The couple explore what it will take to get them off benefit and into work.

The last time Calvin had a job was back in 1988.

For the last six years he's been on the sick with depression.

His wife Karen isn't claiming incapacity benefit, but she has not worked for 15 years while raising a family.

But now they have decided it's time for a change with the birth of their son Keane last year motivating them to get off benefit.

They have been helped by Want 2 Work - a forerunner to the government's national initiative 'Pathways to Work' which has recently been rolled out across the country.

It has taken seven months of working with a personal adviser.

They also help with training and even financial help to kit them out for their first job interviews.

But it's not just building confidence and skills that are obstacles to getting people off benefit and into work.

With many of the jobs available in the low skill/low pay sector of the economy many people on benefits fear that they will be financially worse off in work.

So will going back to work be financially worthwhile for Calvin & Karen?


Lisa Marie
Lisa Marie is suffering from post-natal depression

Lisa-Marie is a teenage mum suffering from depression and waiting to hear if she can go on the sick.

If she's successful she'll join the 500,000 under 35 currently on incapacity benefit (source Department of Work and Pensions).

Nineteen-year-old Lisa-Marie hasn't worked since leaving school.

She would like a job but since the birth of her daughter has suffered post natal depression.

"Sometimes I do get depressed and then I come down like a ton of bricks and other times I'm on top of the world," she says.

But will that be enough to get her on the sick?


Peter and Rita
Peter and Rita were considered fit for work and put on Jobseekers' Allowance

Peter and Rita have never had a job or a qualification.

They have been 'on the sick' for years.

Peter with depression and angina, Rita with arthritis - but recently their incapacity benefit was stopped.

They are now facing life in a caravan after losing their home after rent arrears and a dose of tough love from the government.

They were considered fit for work and moved on to Jobseekers Allowance.

From October all new claimants will face a rigorous medical as part of a renamed benefit, the Employment And Support Allowance.

The Department of Work and Pensions claims that there are jobs for all who want them, but are the opportunities open to all?

Nationally 60% of incapacity claimants have no skills at all (source: Sheffield Hallam University).

That's one of the obstacles facing the Government and its target of one million off the sick by 2015.

With no qualifications, job history and difficulty in basic skills such as reading and writing, what chances will Peter & Rita have of getting a job?

Panorama: Britain on the Sick, BBC One 8.30pm Monday 19 May 2008.

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