Making people better, not demonizing them, will solve Britain’s disease problem | Torsten Bell

In policymaking, as in life, the goal is to recognize when you have a problem without taking it out of perspective. Otherwise nothing gets done.

When it comes to people being too sick to work, we definitely have a problem. Only Britain in the G7 has not seen its employment rate recover to pre-pandemic levels, thanks to the rise to 2.7 million of those not working due to ill health, the longest sustained increase since the 1990s.

The turnout is about young and old. Those in their late 20s/early 30s are most likely to have a mental health problem, and there is a notable U-shape for those too ill to work (with old and young most likely to be affected). The same is evident from the benefits system: the number of new applications for personal independence benefits has increased by two-thirds since 2020.

We should tackle poor health at its roots (a functioning health care system would help) and reform a benefits system so mean that it forces many to prove they are too sick to work if they want to avoid poverty. What we shouldn’t do is create a moral panic. Too many columnists on the right are trying to do just that, proclaiming that today’s Brits are uniquely work-shy:a nation of quitters”. Cuts to benefits are what follows.

A few history lessons are in order. In 1996, 21% of working-age households were ‘unemployed’. Today? Less than 14% is. While we wonder whether Britain is too lazy, American economists are celebrating job growth. What both miss, if they focus only on the past few years and ignore larger changes in recent decades, is that the US still has a labor force participation rate that is 3% lower than Britain’s. How about solving our employment problem instead of exploiting it?

Torsten Bell is CEO of the Resolution Foundation and author of the upcoming book Great Britain? How we get our future back