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Still no action on sickness and invalid benefits

Turner: Still no action on sickness and invalid benefits

United Future's Judy Turner today voiced dismay at the lack of Government on the surge in numbers of those on sickness and invalid benefits means they outnumber those on the dole.

The latest figures obtained from the Ministry of Social Development show that in the past four years, the number of job seekers on the unemployment benefit has declined by 44%, from 149,618 in 2000 to 84,426 this year.

However, over the same period, the number of sickness beneficiaries has increased by 29% (32,793 in 2000 to 42,196 this year), and the number of invalid beneficiaries has risen by 32% (53,816 in 2000 to 71,181 this year).

"We now have a situation where the number of people on sickness and invalids benefits outnumber those on the dole, and it's not just because unemployment is down," Mrs Turner, United Future's welfare spokeswoman, said.

"Clearly there is a significant movement of people to the sickness and invalids benefit, and my fear is that the labour shortage has caused some people who want to avoid work to move to these benefits because they don't face the same kind of work tests as the dole."

The Government's response to the rising number of sickness and invalid beneficiaries was to announce that it would invest $400,000 into researching this trend.

They also suggested funding medical procedures to assist sickness beneficiaries back into the workforce, a similar approach to that used by ACC to reduce the number of its long-term claimants.

"On the face of it, this idea seemed to have merit, since the initial outlay would save the taxpayer millions in future benefit payments and help those who really wanted to return to work.

"But since the Government's queue-jumping scheme would probably only help those requiring surgery or other treatment for physical ailments, it would do little to halt the biggest driver behind the increase in sickness and invalids benefits - those reporting psychological disorders."

Psychological conditions continue to be the most common form of incapacity for each benefit, comprising 36% (15,293) of all sickness beneficiaries and 42% (29,773) of all invalids beneficiaries.

These ailments are also the biggest driver behind the overall increase, since they comprise 57% of the total increase in sickness beneficiaries and 33% of the total increase in invalids beneficiaries.

"I have suggested to the Minister several times in the House that as a first step, such illnesses need to be diagnosed by specialist psychologists rather than general practitioners for the purposes of obtaining a medical certificate."

"This phenomenon is not just a blip on a graph - the trend is clear, it's real, and something needs to be done about it quick smart," Mrs Turner said.

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