Page last updated at 09:56 GMT, Monday, 19 May 2008 10:56 UK

Jobs needed for 'sick' Britain

Panorama meets people on the sick.

The government could struggle to hit its target of taking a million people off incapacity benefit by 2015, the BBC's Panorama has reported.

In Merthyr Tydfil alone 3,000 jobs would need to be created, says Professor Steve Fothergill of Sheffield Hallam University.

The south Wales town is an incapacity benefit hotspot, with one in five of its working population "on the sick".

Across the south Wales valleys 35,000 jobs are needed, Prof Fothergill says.

His study involved interviews with more than 3,000 benefit claimants.

His research makes clear that the government will need to make big reductions in the numbers on benefit in Britain's former industrial heartlands if it is to get anywhere near its UK-wide target.

I see no conflict at all between continuing to keep unemployment low and reducing the numbers of people on incapacity benefit
Stephen Timms MP, Work and Pensions minister

He found that nearly two-thirds of incapacity benefit claimants had no skills or qualifications at all.

However, some claimants have high expectations of what they might earn should they return to work.

Of the minority who said they would like a job, about a third of men and one in six women said they would need at least 300 a week after tax to make it worthwhile coming off benefits and going in to work.

That would mean a job paying around 20,000 a year.

Meanwhile, new figures provided to Panorama by the Department for Work and Pensions suggest the annual cost of paying incapacity benefits, plus associated housing benefit and council tax benefit, has reached 16 billion.

That is more in a single year than the whole estimated cost of staging the London 2012 Olympics.

Employment and Welfare Reform Minister Stephen Timms MP denies that the one million target will only be reached through a rise in unemployment - that many will simply be shifted off the sick and onto other benefits.

He tells Panorama: "I see no conflict at all between continuing to keep unemployment low and reducing the numbers of people on incapacity benefit in the way that we've set out."

Panorama: Britain On the Sick will be broadcast on Monday 19 May 2008 on BBC One at 8.30pm.


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