United Kingdom

Long-term working-age recipients of out-of-work benefits

Graphs on this page:

Supporting information:

Key points

  • In February 2011, 2.8 million working-age people had been receiving a key out-of-work benefit for two years or more.
  • This number has remained similar throughout the last decade.  This lack of substantial change contrasts with the trends in the total number of recipients of key out-of-work benefits, which had been declining slowly but steadily for many years but then rose sharply in 2008 (see the indicator on all recipients of out-of-work benefits).
  • Sickness or disability is overwhelmingly the single most important reason why working-age people claim out-of-work benefits over a long period.  Three-quarters of working-age people – 2 million people – receiving an out-of-work benefit for two years or more are classified as sick or disabled.  Only a very small are officially unemployed (3%).
  • Almost half of all long-term 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.
  • Long-term sickness or disability, as measured by people claiming out-of-work disability benefits for two years or more, is by no means mainly confined to people coming up to retirement.  Just a third of those claiming these benefits for two years or more are aged over 55.  A further third are aged between 45 and 54 and the remaining third are aged under 45.

Why this indicator was originally chosen

The duration of time spent on a very low income can have a considerable effect on the deprivation of a person or family.  The majority of individuals who experience persistent very low income are claiming either Income Support (IS) or Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA).  The chosen indicator is the ‘number of recipients claiming JSA or IS for two years or more’.

In 2002, the IS/JSA allowance for a single person of working age was £53.05.  A person spending two years or more on a weekly income on that scale suffers considerable deprivation.  Furthermore, the weekly payment does not rise with time so that as households’ goods and clothing wear out, money to pay for replacements must be found within the same, limited weekly budget which has to cover all the essential costs of food, heat, power and travel.

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%.1

Another 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 all those of working age who were in receipt of a ‘key out-of-work benefit’ for two years or more.

‘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 long-term claimants of key out-of-work benefits are sick or disabled.  In this context, the second graph shows, for the latest year, a breakdown by reason for those who have, for two years or more, been in receipt of Incapacity Benefit, Severe Disablement Allowance or Employment and Support Allowance.

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

The data source for all the graphs 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.

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 Other
2000 2,950K 1,930K 570K 140K 210K 100K
2001 2,980K 1,990K 570K 110K 220K 90K
2002 3,000K 2,030K 560K 80K 230K 90K
2003 3,050K 2,110K 560K 60K 240K 80K
2004 3,050K 2,130K 540K 50K 250K 70K
2005 3,040K 2,140K 520K 50K 250K 70K
2006 3,020K 2,140K 510K 50K 260K 70K
20072,980K 2,110K 500K 50K 260K 70K
20082,920K 2,060K 480K 40K 270K 70K
20092,870K 2,040K 450K 40K 280K 70K
20102,840K 2,030K 400K 60K 290K 70K
20112,830K 2,030K 350K 80K 300K 80K

Graph 2

Reason Number of claimants (thousands) Share
Mental and behaviour disorders 870K 44%
Musculoskeletal 330K 17%
Nervous system 140K 7%
Circulatory or respiratory 130K 7%
Injury and poisoning 90K 5%
Other classified 200K 10%
Other not classified 230K 11%

Graph 3

Age group Number of claimants Share
Up to 24 70K 4%
25-34 220K 11%
35-44 410K 21%
45-54 610K 31%
55-64 650K 33%

1. Income-related benefits: estimates of take-up, Department of Social Security, 2000.