United Kingdom

Working-age out-of-work benefit recipients

Graphs on this page:

Supporting information:

Key points

  • 5.3 million working-age people were in receipt of an out-of-work benefit in February 2011.  Of these, 2.6 million (49%) were sick or disabled, 1.4 million (27%) were unemployed and 0.6 million (12%) were lone parents.
  • Up until 2008, numbers had been falling slowly but steadily, from 5.3 million in February 2000 to 4.7 million in February 2008.  The majority of this fall was in unemployed claimants, the numbers of which fell by a third over the period, from 1.2 million to 800,000.  By contrast, the number of sick or disabled claimants remained broadly unchanged.
  • In the year to February 2009, however, numbers rose sharply, from 4.7 million to 5.4 million (i.e. back to the levels of a decade previously).  All of this rise was in the number of unemployed claimants which is now actually substantially higher than a decade previously (1.5 million).  Again, the number of sick or disabled claimants remained broadly unchanged.
  • Numbers since February 2009 have remained broadly unchanged.
  • Despite the rise in unemployed claimants in the year to February 2008, the biggest group of claimants remains those who are sick or disabled, who make up around half of all claimants.
  • Two-fifths of all claimants of out-of-work disability benefits have mental or behaviour disorders.  This is more than twice the size of the next largest group, namely those with musculo-skeletal disorders.
  • Two-fifths of all working-age claimants of out-of-work disability benefits are aged less than 45.
  • Almost twice as many working-age people in the North East and Wales are recipients of out-of-work benefits as in the South East.

Why this indicator was originally chosen

When using benefit data, it is important to remember that a considerable number of people who have incomes low enough to make them eligible to claim do not do so.  Take-up varies across the population.  It is thought that in 1999-2000, between 87 and 95% (by caseload) of eligible parents claim income support.  The equivalent rate for pensioners is considerably lower at 63-82%.

1Another important factor is deductions from benefit.  In 1996, a third of all Income Support claimants were having some money directly deducted from their benefit income.  Money was deducted to pay for electricity, gas and water, for housing costs, including mortgage arrears, for Council Tax, and for recovery of fines, Social Fund payments and Child Support Maintenance.

Definitions and data sources

For all the graphs, the data is for the month of February of each year.

The first graph shows the numbers of working-age people claiming one or more ‘key out-of-work benefits’.

‘Key out-of-work benefits’ is a DWP term which covers the following benefits: Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Support, Employment and Support Allowance, Incapacity Benefit, Severe Disablement Allowance and Carer’s Allowance.  Note that this list is slightly different from ‘key benefits’, which also include Disability Living Allowance.

For each year, the total is broken down by type of claimant, namely: unemployed, sick or disabled, lone parents, carers and  ‘other’.  Note that a substantial proportion of the ‘others’ will actually be sick or disabled (i.e. some of those in receipt of Income Support).

As can be seen from the first graph, the biggest group of claimants of key out-of-work benefits are sick or disabled.  In this context, the second graph provides, for the latest year, a breakdown of recipients of Incapacity Benefit, Severe Disablement Allowance or Employment and Support Allowance by reason.

The third graph shows, for the latest year, an age breakdown for those who in receipt of Incapacity Benefit, Severe Disablement Allowance or Employment and Support Allowance.

The fourth graph shows, for the latest year, how the proportion of working-age people in receipt of key out-of-work benefits varies by region, with the data shown separately according to whether or not the individuals are sick or disabled.

The map shows how the proportion of the working-age population who are in receipt of a key out-of-work benefit varies by super output area.

The data source for all the graphs and map is the DWP Work and Pensions Longitudinal Study and is for Great Britain.  The data has been analysed to avoid double-counting of those receiving multiple benefits by matching data from individual samples.  Note that this data source can only be used to estimate the numbers of adult recipients and not the number of their dependent children. 2

Overall adequacy of the indicator: high.  The data is thought to be very reliable and is based on information collected by the DWP for the administration of benefits.

External links

Relevant 2007 Public Service Agreements

Overall aim:  Maximise employment opportunity for all.

Lead department

Department for Work and Pensions.

Official national targets


Other indicators of progress

Overall employment rate taking account of the economic cycle.

Narrow the gap between the employment rates of the following disadvantaged groups and the overall rate: disabled people; lone parents; ethnic minorities; people aged 50 and over; those with no qualifications; and those living in the most deprived Local Authority wards.

Number of people on working age out-of-work benefits.

Amount of time people spend on out-of-work benefits.

Previous 2004 targets

As part of the wider objective of full employment in every region, over the three years to Spring 2008, and taking account of the economic cycle, demonstrate progress on increasing the employment rate.

As part of the wider objective of full employment in every region, over the three years to Spring 2008, and taking account of the economic cycle:

  • increase the employment rates of disadvantaged groups (lone parents, ethnic minorities, people aged 50 and over, those with the lowest qualifications, and those living in local authority wards with the poorest initial labour market position); and
  • significantly reduce the difference between the employment rates of the disadvantaged groups and the overall rate.

The numbers

Graph 1

Year All cases Sick or disabled Lone parents Unemployed Carers Others
2000 5,290K 2,680K 920K 1,150K 310K 220K
2001 5,160K 2,750K 910K 1,000K 310K 180K
2002 5,090K 2,750K 880K 960K 330K 180K
2003 5,070K 2,780K 850K 950K 350K 160K
2004 4,990K 2,780K 830K 870K 360K 160K
2005 4,890K 2,760K 790K 820K 360K 150K
2006 4,940K 2,710K 780K 940K 370K 150K
20074,870K 2,660K 770K 900K 370K 160K
20084,720K 2,620K 740K 810K 380K 170K
20095,340K 2,600K 740K 1,420K 400K 180K
20105,450K 2,610K 690K 1,530K 420K 190K
20115,270K 2,580K 610K 1,440K 450K 190K

Graph 2

Reason Number of claimants (thousands) Share
Mental and behaviour disorders 1,120K 43%
Musculoskeletal 430K 16%
Circulatory or respiratory 170K 7%
Nervous system 170K 6%
Injury and poisoning 150K 6%
Other classified 280K 11%
Other not classified 310K 12%

Graph 3

Age group Number of claimants Share
Up to 24 160K 6%
25-34 330K 13%
35-44 560K 22%
45-54 780K 30%
55-64 760K 29%

Graph 4

Region Sick or disabled Other Total
East 5.2% 6.0% 11.1%
East Midlands 6.5% 6.9% 13.4%
London 6.0% 7,7% 13.8%
North East 8.9% 9.4% 18.2%
North West 9.0% 8.2% 17.2%
Scotland 8.5% 7.7% 16.2%
South East 4.8% 5.2% 10.0%
South West 6.2% 5.5% 11.7%
Wales 10.1% 8.1% 18.1%
West Midlands 7.1% 8.8% 15.9%
Yorkshire and The Humber 7.0% 8.0% 15.0%
1. Income related benefits: estimates of take-up, Department of Social Security, 2000. 
2. Although the data purports to include numbers of children, those in receipt of some of the major benefits (e.g. Employment and Support Allowance) are always recorded as having either ‘zero’ or ‘unknown’ numbers of children.  This is because the number of children does not affect the amount of benefit to which they are entitled.  To get data on children, one therefore has to use another DWP survey.  Note that, because this latter survey is relatively small, there is some uncertainty about the reliability of the resulting estimates.