Sicknote Britain Is Deterring Foreign Investment

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Sicknote Britain Is Deterring Foreign Investment

Generation Sicknote Z

According to a recent survey conducted by Professor Matt Goodwin’s People Polling for the Daily Mail, the 18 to 34 age group in the UK is increasingly afflicted by idleness, despair and a resulting dependency on the generosity of Britain’s welfare state. Some 481,000 young people in the 16 to 24 age group are currently unemployed. 280,000 of these are in receipt of unemployment benefits. That is 50,000 more than before the pandemic and nearly twice as many as a decade ago.

And a study from the left-leaning Resolution Foundation found that the number of 18 to 24 year olds who are economically inactive due to mental health issues has more than doubled over the past decade from 93,000 to 190,000. The study found that one third of young people experienced depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder. People in their early 20s are now more likely to be unemployed by ill health of all kinds than people in their early 40s.

Despite record immigration, there is apparently a huge pool of unemployed young labour who, in other circumstances, might have stepped up as, inter alia, engineers, delivery drivers and carers all of whom are all much in demand. What is holding those young folk back from the world of work? Professor Goodwin told the Daily Mail that the answer is: “mental health”.

According to NHS statistics, a record 2.8 million British citizens of working age are not in the labour force because of “long-term-sickness”. This includes 560,000 16 to 24 year olds (who are a quite separate cohort from the 280,000 on the dole, as mentioned above). The Health Foundation thinks that the number of people of all ages not working because of mental health issues has almost doubled in eleven years from six percent in 2012 to 12.7 percent last year.

Those who cannot work in the UK because of long-term physical or mental illness are now paid Personal Independence Payments (PIPs – formerly called the Disability Living Allowance). The neediest can claim up to £691 every four weeks. This is paid on top of other state benefits such as Housing Benefit and Income Support. Last year, one in three new claims for PIPs were for anxiety, social phobia, depression, self-harming and stress. Of the total bill of around £22 billion for PIPs last year, just under 40 percent was attributable to “mental health” issues. That bill, it is projected, could rise to £50 billion by the end of the decade.

40 percent of the unemployed young people in the 18 to 30 age bracket told Professor Goodwin that they had been unemployed for more than one year. 44 percent depended on welfare payments to survive. 49 percent cited “mental health” issues as the driving factor in their joblessness. Many of these young people stopped working when the coronavirus pandemic hit home – so, in the first half of 2020. But, whether or not a consequence of the catastrophic lockdown policy, many of these young people agreed with the proposition that “My job was having a negative effect on my mental health, so I quit”.

Mental Wealth

I think that those who wish to understand what is going on are entitled to ask the question: What is meant by “mental health problems”? The definition of what is a mental health issue is essentially cultural; and it seems clear that in recent years a number of quite normal life experiences have been medicalised in a way that obfuscates the issue. For example, all of us go through periods of sadness (who has not had a relationship issue in youth?); and pretty much all of us experience grief (sometimes appallingly so) when we lose a loved one. But these emotional states are quite distinct, in my understanding and that of my generation, from the medicalised state of “depression” – which is apparently now rife amongst the young.

It’s absolutely true that in my youth we were loath to speak about “mental health issues”. But is it really an improvement now that we speak of little else? Suddenly, the mainstream groupthink has become in thrall to the 1960s controversial psychologist, RD Laing, who argued that mental illness is a wholesome reaction to a sick society.

Shy children are no longer just “shy”. No – they have social anxiety disorder. There is no longer such a thing as naughty children. On the contrary, they have oppositional defiant disorder. There are no disruptive schoolchildren – just those who have ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). In the USA, nearly 40 percent of Generation Z children (those born between 1997 and 2012) are receiving therapy from a mental health professional. Being “normal” is increasingly abnormal.

In the culture in which I grew up – for all its many faults – one’s personal happiness was the concern of the individual, the family and one’s extended circle of friends. Not of the state – not even of schoolteachers and their clinical colleagues. But now we live in the “therapeutic state” – even if a Tory administered one – in which the emotional wellbeing of the people is an object of government policy. Increasingly, schools, hospitals and universities are expected to provide therapy, counselling and even mental health interventions. They must forestall “triggering” poor mental health by providing “safe spaces” in which their increasingly infantilised charges can be “protected” from harm.

Department for Work and Pensions forecasts suggest that the number of people on disability benefits is likely to rise by another one million over the next four years. Moreover, people who are signed off work for depression and severe anxiety often never return to the workplace. Thus, the cost of working-age disability and incapacity benefit is likely to rise from its current £26 billion to £34 billion over the course the next parliament. That will be much more than the cost of the justice system or the Foreign Office.

Professor of Sociology Frank Furedi of the University of Kent thinks that a diagnosis of medical ill health prevents people from taking responsibility for their own behaviour. He has said: “What used to be known as existential problems of being young – relationships, failing, not being part of something – the normal difficulties of making your own way in life have been compartmentalised into mental health issues. We’ve created a mental health crisis by reframing the problems of everyday life”.

Professor Furedi is also concerned about how psychologists increasingly diagnose school children as having ADHD. It has always been a challenge to hold the attention of the young for whom the classroom is an unnatural environment.

A recent book by Abigail Shrier, Bad Therapy: Why Kids Aren’t Growing Up, argues that “touch-feely parenting and therapy” have done our young a disservice. This therapeutic parenting especially afflicts Generation Z. This generation, apparently, are less likely to go on dates, get a driving license or hold down a job. At least as compared to millennials (born between 1980 and 1994). Of course, the main difference between those two cohorts is that the former, unlike the latter, were raised with social media accessible on smartphones. Hence the current debate around whether pupils should be permitted to bring smartphones to school at all.

Shrier thinks that the main problem is not the kids or the travails of modern life. Rather, it is the mental health “experts” who medicalise normal experiences and liberally dispense pharmacological interventions such as Ritalin (Methylphenidate).

Mental health issues are also driving increased school absences. One in eight 11 to 16 year olds missed 15 or more days of school in the autumn term of last year on metal health grounds. This is already affecting educational attainment.

In The Coddling of the American Mind, Jonathan Haidt and Gerg Lukianoff claim that many American universities “can’t hire therapists fast enough” to keep up with demand. That is partly because these institutions have persuaded their students that they are victims of as yet unresolved injustices, such as “white privilege”.

It is to be regretted that our culture which once lauded bravery, honour and reticence, now fosters the narcissistic culture of victimhood. Mental wealth arises from a feeling of belonging and a sense of purpose. It is difficult to achieve these things in an environment which teaches children that they come from a society that is inherently guilty of historic crimes.

The Economic Cost

Britain’s “mental health” crisis is beyond anything that exists in Europe or North America – and there is a huge economic cost associated with that. Last month, ONS Chief Economist, Grant Fitzner, stated the obvious: “If more people were in work, consuming, producing, we would have higher GDP numbers”.

The Spectator (or more precisely its editor, Fraser Nelson, who has been much exercised by this topic of late) has calculated that if workforce participation had remained at its 2019 level when 79.5 percent of the working-age population was in work, then the UK economy would be 1.7 percent bigger than it currently is – and the technical recession would have been entirely avoided.

The unemployment rate in the United Kingdom is at a near-record low of 3.8 percent. But that measure only counts those people who are actively looking for work (hence they receive Jobseeker’s Allowance). The real issue is the number of people who are out of work and who are not looking for a job. The number of people who receive out-of-work benefits now stands at around 5.6 million – more than ever before. And that number is rising: about 4,000 new applications for sickness benefit are submitted every day.

The strange paradox is that there are currently about 900,000 job vacancies on offer. That is far more than was the case before the pandemic. Even given immigration into the UK at record levels – there were 745,000 net new arrivals in 2022 – there is still a severe shortage of workers. None of the major political parties want to talk about this because none of them have a solution.

So, we have mass joblessness in tandem with record vacancies. That would leave a Keynesian economist scratching his or her head. How can we explain why 22 percent of the working-age population is idle in Middlesbrough? Or 24 percent in Hartlepool? Or 25 percent in Blackpool? Some people might say it is a function of laziness: work-shy Britain. But even a right-of-centre economist would have to admit that it must have something to do with Britain’s increasingly convoluted tax and benefits regime. As the great Milton Friedman once observed: If you tax people for working and pay them for not working, it is not surprising that you get unemployment.

Furthermore, the pandemic and the government policies formulated to manage it have had consequences. Rishi Sunak introduced the furlough (Job Retention) scheme when he was Chancellor in March 2020 in the anticipation that it would last for just a few months. As things turned out, it lasted until 30 September 2021. Inevitably, many people fell out of the habit of work – and then were incentivised to remain out of the workplace. As a result, we are suffering from both higher welfare bills and lower tax receipts.

In almost every EU country as well as in Canada and the USA the labour participation rate has returned to its 2019 level. Not in the UK. Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt attempted to address this in his Autumn Statement on 22 November last year by cutting Employees’ National Insurance Contribution from 12 percent to 10 percent – which became effective on 6 January this year. But thus far, this has had no discernible effect. The Chancellor’s “headroom” for further tax cuts in his Spring Budget on Wednesday next week (6 March) is extremely limited. I shall have much more to say about that next week.


And then there is Working from Home (WFH – also known as dressing gown life). Before the pandemic, executives were given leeway to take their laptops home from time to time. Now, almost everybody (including civil servants) thinks that a five-day week in the office is a cruel leftover from medieval history. The notion spread that WFH equals progressive HR and, of course, “wellness”.

The only problem is that, as is now evident, those who are most addicted to WFH are one and the same as those who are on the hit-list to be made redundant. In fact, if you don’t spend a decent proportion of your week in the office, where you can interact with your colleagues (assuming they turn up too), you may not have a job at all. Slaughter and May is a top City law firm that now requires everybody to turn up at the office at least three days a week – and tracks their ingress and egress to this end. (Just as coal miners and factory workers used to clock in and clock out. Irony, that). Over in the USA, the retailer Wayfair has told staff that those who worked remotely were “most likely to be laid off”.

A lot of observers have missed the trend that even the most successful firms are shedding labour right now. In the UK, the major banks are closing branches and are offering generous redundancy terms to seasoned mid-career employees. As I discussed a few weeks ago, even the tech titans are making people walk the plank. Microsoft is drastically downsizing the headcount within its gaming division.

Studies show that when people work from home, much less training and mentoring go on, and therefore the skill sets of employees decline. People who work from home tend to be less skilled, less productive and less engaged with the intricacies of the organisation. Call it office politics, if you will.

The View From Abroad

London-based Neeraj Kanwar is the CEO of India’s Apollo Tyres which has seven factories across the world, including one in Hungary, though none in the UK. He also owns an Italian restaurant in London’s Wilton Street – Scalini.

Kanwar recently told financial journalists that Apollo has no plans to open a factory in the UK because British workers “hardly work – they go to the pub”. He blames this indolence on the generosity of the British welfare state. Despite that, Apollo is a long-term sponsor of Manchester United FC and has a relationship with the University of Glasgow.

A study conducted by The Policy Institute at King’s College London published last September found that nearly one fifth of British people said that work was not important in their lives. That was the highest proportion out of 24 countries surveyed, which included France, Sweden, the US, Nigeria, Japan and China. The people most likely to say that work was very important lived mostly in lower and middle-income countries, with the Philippines, Indonesia and Nigeria all coming out top. But other European nations, including France, Spain, Italy, Sweden and Norway, all ranked much higher than the UK.

Increasingly, British people no longer believe that hard work brings a better life – and that is particularly the case amongst the young. People in the UK have also become more likely to say luck counts for as much as hard work since 1990, rising from 40 to 49 percent. They also increasingly believe that it would be a good thing if less importance were placed on work, a figure that has risen from 26 percent to 43 percent.

Ultimately, it’s a question of reputation. Hard working Confucian cultures like those in Japan and South Korea place a high value on work. Here, it seems, we don’t. Where would you rather invest?


Just before the millennium celebrations when Tony Blair sailed up the Thames with HM The Queen on a barge to what is now the O2 to mark the advent of a new century, my father Eric died. The blood disorder, first diagnosed in June, had mutated into aggressive leukaemia. I still have a book somewhere that explains haematology.

What I didn’t understand about grief is that it can take hold of the body just as the ancients believed that evil spirits could. For about two months I felt as if a demon were reaching into my ribcage and gripping my heart. Every morning, I awoke to this strange form of pain. I could not drive. I was often short of breath. And yet I arranged the obsequies and delivered the eulogy. Somehow, life went on.

I do not say this to elicit sympathy. My point is that states of anguish are a part of life – we just get through them because we must. Maybe, instead of telling young people what syndromes they suffer from, we should teach them how to cope with the challenges we all endure at some point in our lives. If I have a motto, it’s a simple one that I like to think I share with my 19-year old Jack Russell terrier who doesn’t have much time left.

Just keep going.

Comments (9)

  • Tony Airey says:

    My wife suggests the re-establishment of asylums so that those who truly require mental support can access it. And those who don’t fancy the asylum experience can decide whether they really are too incapacitated to work.

  • colin says:

    Another commonsense article from Victor – always look forward to his Friday musings.

  • Christopher JP Russell says:

    This years outflows from UK Equity Funds amount to $3.3 billion with outflows seen every single week. Investors are shunning and running away from UK. assets. They know what’s coming.

  • Andrew Dawber says:

    I have run my own Limited Company for 24 years and during that time I have employed no one except myself. The reason is simple. I don’t want to be bled dry by someone with a mental health issue.
    My wife used to be in charge of a department in a High Street Bank. Some of the reasons people gave for not going to work were appalling. One guy needed two weeks off work because of his mental anguish because his girlfriend’s mother’s dog had died.

  • Brij Rathor says:

    Excellent writing. Where is Britain heading to? One time a World manufacturer, hard working people and NOW live on DOLE culture has spread. 5 Star hotel accomodation for who have not paid a penny towards NIC or Taxes in this Country whereas true Britisher is bashed by the government to pay, pay and pay taxes. So naturally why work hard, well work at all and for what. Taxed till DEATH! and after DEATH!
    What are the MPs doing in the parliament instead of saving UK they are fighting amongst themselves and look at the local Mayors and Councillors total sham! They got cushy jobs, perks and ofcourse tax payer funded salaries.

  • andy hancox says:

    One has to ask why does Britain have such serious issues compared to other countries, The benefit system may be a factor, but is far from the only or even the main explanation. it is a symptom rather than a cause. Basically Britain has been run into the ground by 14 years of government incompetence. Nothing works; income inequality has ballooned; investment in our industries and our people has been choked off; and huge swathes of people are living insecure lives on the breadline. Underpinning this has been:
    – the hugely damaging years of austerity;
    – the complete idiocy and harm of Brexit;
    – the botched and incompetent response to Covid;
    – no sensible strategies, joined up policy making and decisions increasingly based on narrow self interest and short term considerations;

    We cannot go on like this. the current hopeless and untrustworthy government has to be voted out and we as a country need to start re-building.

  • andy hancox says:

    One has to ask why does Britain have such serious issues compared to other countries, The benefit system may be a factor, but is far from the only or even the main explanation. it is a symptom rather than a cause. Basically Britain has been run into the ground by 14 years of government incompetence. Nothing works; income inequality has ballooned; investment in our industries and our people has been choked off; and huge swathes of people are living insecure lives on the breadline. Underpinning this has been:
    – the hugely damaging years of austerity;
    – the complete idiocy and harm of Brexit;
    – the botched and incompetent response to Covid;
    – no sensible strategies, joined up policy making and decisions increasingly based on narrow self interest and short term considerations;

    We cannot go on like this. The current hopeless government has to be voted out and we as a country need to start re-building.

  • Richard Green says:

    You suggest voting out this government as if there is something even marginably different waiting in the wings.
    You forgot to mention the pursuit of net zero in your list.
    Our 1% CO2 contribution matters little when China is burning their own coal and also its imports from Australia and Canada (to name only two) in 3,000+ power stations and are currently buildjng 300 more.
    Anxiety and depression are being fostered, some might say deliberately, by the massive waste of money spent on subsidised green energy.
    For sure, my fuel bills don’t lighten my mood.

  • Paul says:


    Just to address one of your points. Have you examined the reasons behind the years of austerity? If a government borrows way beyond its means and cannot pay it back and spends without fear of the future consequence, then a follow on government cannot recklessly continue to borrow. Remember the post it note……theres no money left. If it it were your money….would you a) continue to borrow and spend until you you went bankrupt or b) try and live within your means.

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