Over 700,000 on sickness benefits want to work, Centre for Social Justice analysis reveals

Over 700,000 on sickness benefits want to work, Centre for Social Justice analysis reveals

25th May 2023


  • New analysis from the CSJ reveals that in November 2022, there were 3.7 million claimants with No Work Requirements. Claimants with No Work Requirements are exempt from work due to physical and mental health conditions, disabilities or caring responsibilities.
  • This has risen by 480,000 since before the pandemic, mirroring the post-Covid surge in economic inactivity due to long-term sickness. Out of work benefits spending for people exempt from work has risen to around £25 billion per annum, the think tank estimates.
  • While many claimants with No Work Requirements will never be able to work due to the nature of their conditions or responsibilities, analysis by the CSJ of official survey data reveals that at least 700,000 in this group say they want to work and think they could with the right support.
  • At a time of soaring immigration, the CSJ is demanding ministers look to untap more of the potential in our communities by helping those languishing on sickness benefits who want to work move into roles and fill labour shortages. Helping this group into work, the analysis reveals would net HM Treasury £7bn in savings in benefit payments and taxes, boosting growth and changing lives.
  • The CSJ recommended the roll out of Universal Support – an intervention proven to help people with complex barriers to work achieve and stay in employment – which the Government accepted and announced at the Spring Budget 2023. HM Treasury expect the programme to help tens of thousands into work next year, rising to 50,000 per annum by 2025.
  • However, concerns remain that claimants will not take up the new voluntary employment support offer owing to fears around engaging with DWP employment support, worries over fluctuating conditions, and triggering reassessment for health-related benefits.
  • Of those in this group who think they could work with the right support, DWP survey data shows 53% are ‘worried they wouldn’t get their benefits back’ if it didn’t work out, 73% are ‘worried people won’t employ me because of my health condition’, while 72% said their health condition fluctuated too much.
  • The Government’s Health and Disability white paper sets out welcome measures to reform assessments so they are more tailored to individual needs and ambitions to work. But the measure are not expected to be fully rolled out until 2029. And so the CSJ is asking ministers to introduce additional measures urgently:
    • The CSJ is calling on Government to announce an ‘Into Work Guarantee’, providing a cast iron commitment that claimants trying work will be supported and will be able to return to their additional health-related benefits without a new assessment should their condition unexpectedly worsen. Some claimants are exempt from reassessment currently, but this is patchy and not well known.
    • The CSJ is also calling on HM Treasury to accelerate the managed migration of ESA claimants onto Universal Credit where they can receive additional support into work, after this has slowed down at last year’s mini-budget.

Joe Shalam, Policy Director at the Centre for Social Justice, said:

“Mel Stride deserves credit for seeking to complete the unfinished business of welfare reform. But we know this will take years. What we need are further interventions now to stem the rising tide of sickness related inactivity, and to give the 700,000 exempt claimants who want work the confidence to step into the labour market.

“Employers must be incentivised away from their reliance on immigration – unlocking the talent in our communities will cut the benefit bill and, more importantly, change lives for the better.”


  1. CSJ analysed data from the DWP to provide a combined estimate of claimants with No Work Requirements across Universal Credit and legacy benefits. Data from Stat X-plore shows that, as of November 2022, there were 1.8 million UC claimants with NWR, 1.7 million claimants on Employment and Support Allowance and predecessor benefit, and less than 200,000 on other legacy benefits. The combined total was 3.7 million as of November 2022, the most recent month for which all benefit data is available. The analysis excludes disability benefits including Personal Independence Payment and Disability Living Allowance, focusing on out of work support.
  2. Research from the Department for Work and Pensions found that 20 per cent of claimants with No Work Requirements said they want to work. Applying this figure to the total number of claimants with No Work Requirements produced a total of 740,000 who want to work. This is believed by the Centre for Social Justice to be a conservative estimate, given the structural incentives for claimants in this group to focus on what they can’t do rather than what they can in work capability assessments.

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