Britons who are “too readily” diagnosed as suffering from mental health conditions are driving a rise in benefit claims, the Work and Pensions Secretary has said.
Mel Stride said “labelling” by society and the socialisation of mental health issues had contributed to a surge in welfare payments.
“It’s a good thing that we talk about mental health, a good thing that we let it all hang out there and people get the treatment that they wouldn’t have in the past,” he told an event in Manchester on the fringe of Tory conference.
However, Mr Stride suggested that society was “leaning in too hard” on the idea that all people with mental health problems were too sick to work.
“[There] is a question mark, to what degree are we too readily identifying individuals as being [ill] and then consequently doing various things as a result of that?
“To what extent are we leaning in too hard into some of that?”
He also blamed the lockdown and a rise in social media use for a “big surge” in mental health issues among younger people.
Mental health conditions have been the main driver of the post-pandemic rise in long-term sickness and inactivity, ahead of musculoskeletal disorders such as back pain.
A record 2.6m people are economically inactive for long-term health reasons, representing a rise of around half a million compared with pre-pandemic levels.
Ministers are drawing up plans that will see GPs play a bigger role in helping to keep more people with health conditions in work in measures that are expected to be revealed in Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s Autumn Statement.
The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) estimates that on current trends one in eight of all working age people will be claiming some form of disability benefit by 2027.
Sir Iain Duncan Smith, former Tory leader, said GPs had become “frightened about mental health issues” leading many to sign patients off work for extended periods.
“They really don’t like diagnosing it,” he said.
Mr Stride said the Government was working to “embed employment with healthcare support”.
He said: “I think that is the route and the GP is central to that in terms of the journey towards reform.”