Growing stress and pressure at work has led to a surge in people being forced to quit their jobs and live on benefits, insurers said last night.
More than one million people now cite mental or behavioural problems in support of claims for sickness benefits – a rise of more than 200,000 in a decade. People deemed not well or fit enough to work receive employment and support allowance, which replaced incapacity benefit four years ago.
According to a new analysis of benefit recipients, more than a million people are unable to work because of mental disorders, compared with 824,000 a decade ago.
Diane Buckley, managing director of Legal and General Group Protection, which conducted the research, said the findings were worrying.
"Increasing pressures in the workplace such as changes in regulation and trying to deliver more for less, are all taking their toll," she said. "These figures show how important it is for employers to provide good-quality support for people in the workplace."
There are nearly 160,000 claimants in the 45 to 49 age bracket, an increase of more than 50 per cent since 2002, and more than 250,000 aged 35 to 44. There are even 83,000 aged between 18 and 24.
The TUC's general secretary, Brendan Barber, said: "The pressure of high unemployment and low job security is being felt in workplaces across the country. The failure of employers to deal with stress at work can make tough decisions even worse and too often forces staff out of work and on to benefits. Losing your job as a result of stress is a personal tragedy, but it can be prevented if handled sensitively by employers."
Ministers are preparing plans to reduce absenteeism rates in the private and public sectors. A Government-commissioned report last year warned that workplace pressures were triggering nervous problems that left people claiming sick pay then quitting to live on benefits. The bill for health-related benefits is £13bn.
At the time David Cameron expressed concern over the number of sickness claims from those with "manageable conditions like stress or backache where a life on benefits is not an inevitability and where early intervention can really make a difference in preventing needless job loss".
Last night the Welfare Reform Minister, Lord Freud, acknowledged that Britain faced a problem with people leaving jobs because of treatable problems. "Each year over 300,000 people leave work and sign on to sickness benefit because of health conditions that might have been addressed earlier on." he said.