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Bringing Incapacity Benefit numbers down: to what extent do women need a different approach?

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The dominant narrative used to explain the big rise in Incapacity Benefit (IB) numbers across Britain is essentially about men. The collapse of male employment in older industries, mostly in the North, Scotland and Wales, led to the emergence of a cohort of mainly older, less healthy men who accessed IB instead of unemployment benefits. What this overlooks is that among the under-60s the number of women claiming IB now almost equals the number of men. In view of the long-term increase in employment opportunities for women, the similarity in IB numbers is at first sight surprising. Does this mean that bringing down the number of women on IB requires a different approach? The article draws on evidence from a survey of men and women claiming IB, in-depth interviews with claimants and professional stakeholders and secondary data analysis. The identical geography of male and female IB claimants suggests that a weak aggregate demand for labour is through time transmitted, via labour market sorting processes, to exclude from employment the most disadvantaged in terms of skills and health, irrespective of gender. The article highlights important similarities between the men and women claiming IB but also a number of distinctive issues affecting women, including the roles of increased labour market participation, lone parenthood and the impact of benefit rules. It is concluded that a package of economic regeneration and supply-side interventions will bring down the number of both men and women claiming IB.
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Keywords: United Kingdom; gender; health; unemployment; welfare reform

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research, Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield, UK 2: Department of Geography, University of Dundee, Dundee, UK

Publication date: March 1, 2010

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