At least 20,000 people are unable to work each month because of mental health problems, new data shows.

There has been calls for more tailored support for people experiencing mental ill health after figures from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) show that more than two-thirds of incapacity benefit claims are for mental health problems.

Incapacity benefit is paid through universal credit and new figures show that 69% of those on universal credit health benefits have been judged to be unfit for any work.

In the last two years, 69% of the assessments were for “mental and behavioural disorders”, with back and joint problems making up 48% of claims, and chronic pain and metabolic problems such as diabetes and obesity making up 15% of the claims.

Christopher Rocks, from the thinktank Health Foundation, said the latest data “reinforces the increasing importance of mental health on people’s ability to work”.

He called for more tailored support, saying: “Ill health is driving the rise of people on out-of-work benefits and having a significant impact on the economy.

“Some recent government measures are a step in the right direction but can be scaled up and go further. However, measures that restrict benefit entitlement for people with work-limiting health conditions risk being counterproductive.”

Those receiving the benefits have, on average, 2.7 health conditions, highlighting how the number of people with complex illnesses is growing and that finding a quick fix when it comes to benefits is not easy.

Nil Güzelgün, from the mental health charity Mind, said the figures “highlight the acute need for mental health support”, and said there are 1.9 million people waiting for NHS mental health treatment.

She said: “People would love to work if they had access to the mental health support they need but that support just isn’t there.

“People need to be offered tailored support from experts if they are to return to work, not threats of losing what little money they currently have to live on.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “Our landmark welfare reforms will cut the number of people due to be put on to the highest tier of incapacity benefits by over 370,000 and instead give them personalised support, while our chance to work guarantee will enable people to try work without fear of losing their benefits.”

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