SICKNESS benefit payments for jobless people with mental health problems have soared by a quarter over the past decade, figures showed yesterday.

More than a million claimants pocket cash for being off work through mental disability and “behavioural disorders”.

Analysis of Department for Work and Pensions figures by insurance giant Legal & General revealed that 200,000 more people were claiming employment and support allowance and incapacity benefit than 10 years ago.

In February, a total of 1,031,700 were claiming the two handouts compared with 824,110 claimants in the same month in 2002. Nearly 63 per cent of the total were in the 60-plus age group.

A further 158,370 claimants were between 45 and 49, an increase of more than 50 per cent on the 2002 figure. And there was a 30 per cent rise to 82,790 of claimants aged between 18 and 24.

Robert Oxley, campaign manager of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “We need to look after those with mental health problems, and some of this increase may be accounted for by better diagnosis. It also shows that we need a simpler, more transparent system to offer the right support for the right people.”

Ministers are seeking to reduce the £13billion of taxpayers’ cash spent every year on health-related benefits.

Diane Buckley, managing director of Legal & General Group Protection, said: “These figures show how important it is for employers to provide good quality support in the workplace.

“Our own data has shown the largest cause of group income protection claims across the financial services sector is for mental health problems. Increasing pressures in the workplace, such as changes in regulation and trying to deliver more for less, are taking their toll.”

The figures come after separate statistics revealed three-quarters of incapacity benefit claimants were classed as fit for work after Government tests.



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