How An Epidemic Of Malingering Is Destroying Britain

Britain's New Labour Government claims that unemployment figures are low. This is, almost inevitably, yet another piece of spin. There may well be less than a million now on the official `unemployed' list but the Government's figures don't include the 7.8 million Britons of working age who are `economically inactive'.

Unemployment benefits cost Britain 4 billion a year but sickness benefits cost four times as much - a staggering 16 billion.

More than 80% of the people on incapacity benefit have been receiving cash for over a year. Once someone goes off `on the sick' the chances are that they will stay `on the sick' for eight years.

Faked sickness has become one of Britain's most `successful' industries.

Millions of people now take time off work by pretending to be sick. This habit has become endemic and is particularly prevalent in national and local government offices where co-workers are unlikely to complain. The highest incidence of people taking days off sick occurs among: civil servants, teachers, health workers, social workers and police officers. Stress is the favoured illness of choice (having overtaken the once ubiquitous `bad back') and is preferred because the symptoms are so vague that it is almost impossible to prove that someone is not suffering from it.

(The people who suffer most from stress at work are the self-employed or the businessman running his own small business and struggling to cope with the red tape produced by the Government and the EU. They, however, are unlikely to be able to take time off work so easily. If they don't work they don't earn.)

Many government employees enjoy their days off so much they retire permanently `sick' in their 40s or 50s. (Again, the contrast with the hard-working self-employed and entrepreneurs is dramatic. Thanks to the way the New Labour Government has destroyed their pensions they are likely to have to work on until their 70s or 80s if, indeed, they can ever save enough to be able to stop work.) Naturally, all government employees who are unable to work through stress are given special stress counselling in addition to the pensions and cash sums they receive in order to ease their pain.

At any one time a quarter of Britain's policemen (and policewomen) are off work `sick'. An astonishing 70% retire on long term sick leave. The result is that one third of the budget in some large police forces is now used to pay those on pensions and on long term sick pay. Many of the state employees who have retired on substantial, index linked pensions then earn extra by doing odd jobs or by turning a hobby into a money making venture. Since they have their sick pay or pension to live on they are happy to work for small amounts of money. The self-employed professionals in those categories simply cannot compete.

These retired state employees are the new parasitic `rich'; completely free of money worries for life, guaranteed inflation proofed payments sufficient to pay for a smart car and house of a standard far exceeding anything they could have ever dreamed of buying if they had carried on working, and an unending series of holidays. These people are destroying our community and will make life difficult for the genuinely ill. For thousands the disability pension offers a pool winners lifestyle. They may well have had some emotional or physical discomfort when they were awarded their pay-out and pension but often the pain disappears but the pension does not. The stress and the backache become a memory. But the taxpayer goes on paying out the monthly pension payments. In a just world there would be a twice yearly appraisal. But in our world the pension payments, the holidays and the new cars just keep on coming.

Today, an astonishing 2.4 million Britons of working age are currently claiming incapacity benefit. That's up by more than 250,000 since New Labour took office and, together with the dramatic increase in the number of civil servants, and the growth in the public sector paid for construction industry, explains Britain's relatively low unemployment figures (at the beginning of 2004, there were just under 1 million Britons officially unemployed though that figure doesn't allow for all the unofficially unemployed who were on special schemes designed more to lower the unemployment figures than to provide any realistic training programme and it is nevertheless worth remembering that a survey of British companies in February 2004 revealed that a fifth of job vacancies remained unfilled.)

This problem is a much bigger problem than our ageing population. Pensioners usually claim money from the state for an average of ten years or so. Individuals receiving sickness payments may take money out of the system for 30 or 40 years.

A survey of 300 doctors found that 77% admitted signing `workers' off very quickly just to get rid of them. A survey of 67 doctors, conducted by researchers at Aberdeen University and published in the British Medical Journal, found that most doctors tend to hand out sick notes when they are asked to do so. Many doctors hand out sick notes because they are frightened that if they don't so their patients will leave their practice.

Stress has replaced backache as the disease of choice for individuals who want to be paid for doing nothing. The problem for doctors is that stress is a vague disorder and the symptoms are conveniently hard to diagnose. All a patient has to do is say is that they are worried, can't sleep, aren't eating properly and don't want to go out much. Tossing in a line about having a nasty boss is the cherry on the cake.

Part of the problem is the fact that doctors (hired to look after the sick) are also given the job of acting as a ticket office for the benefits system. Britain's employment rate in January 2004 was at high of 74.7% but record numbers of people 5.9 million were off sick - with around 3 million of them claiming sickness or disability benefit. Excluding pensioners and people off sick for less than six months, the number claiming long term incapacity benefit has risen to just under 2.5 million. In parts of South Wales (a country, incidentally, in which most of the people who are in work are working for the Government) over 25% of working age men are claiming sickness benefit. This is obviously nothing less than a long term fraud. The vast majority of these people are off work for alleged stress related problems or `depression'. There is, incidentally, a common conclusion from this that unemployment leads to depression. This is false. Many of those who are claiming to be `depressed' do so in order to increase the size of their weekly benefit payment. (In London's commuter belt, where stress is a significant factor, the number of working age men claiming sickness benefit is below 5% so it isn't difficult to reach the conclusion that four out of five Welshmen claiming sickness benefit are fraudsters.)

Doctors don't have time to work through people's problems with them, to help find a cause or work out what to do, so they just hand over a sick note and some tablets. Around 10% of the patients who get a sick note are probably genuinely ill (and need more help than a bottle of tablets and a sick note). The other 90% are just crooks.

Ironically, it is those on benefits who complain most about the failure of the public services (such as the NHS). They fail to understand that public services (such as the NHS) have failed, at least in part, because far too much public money is being wasted on paying benefits to people who could and should be working. Too much of those who have become parasites fail to understand that a country's wealth comes from its workers.

As the number of fakers and parasites increases so the resentment increases. We all have the same amount of time (today's prime resource) and it is hardly surprising that the people who earn and pay tax are sometimes aggrieved and full of resentment when they rush past the park and see perfectly healthy people on benefits sitting in the sunshine reading a book.

This endemic of malingering is helping to destroy our society. The malingerers hurt those who work, they hurt the genuinely sick, they hurt the society in which they live (there is so much less money to pay for a decent health service for example) and, although they probably don't realise it, they hurt themselves most of all.

Taken from Why Everything Is Going To Get Worse Before It Gets Better (And What You Can Do About It) by Vernon Coleman, published by Blue Books at 15.99. The book is available from the shop on this website or from all terrestial bookshops or Web-based bookshops.

Copyright Vernon Coleman 2004