Long-term sickness benefits

Any changes to long-term sickness benefit were always going to have a major impact on former mining areas in the south Wales valleys because of the sheer number of people claiming it.

The legacy of industrial-related illness and social and economic deprivation still takes its toll.

But the latest figures don't fully explain why the fall has been proportionately steeper in places like Merthyr, Rhondda Cynon Taf and Blaenau Gwent.

For example, they are not fully explained by the results of the tests designed to establish whether someone is capable of work, called Work Capability Assessments.

Since they were introduced in Wales, 21% of all of those to have gone through them were judged to have been fit for work, which is around the same as the UK average.

Retirement

There's no doubt that the age profile has made a big impact. Many people will have stopped claiming employment support allowance because they have hit retirement age and are claiming pensions instead.

We don't know how many have returned to the workplace. The availability of jobs could be a factor with unemployment rates in Wales lower than most other places in the UK.

Supporters of welfare reform will celebrate these figures. They argue that work leads to healthier, more fulfilling lives. The claim will also be that some progress is being made after decades of enormous political effort.

But critics say it's not as simple as that, they claim in many cases people are being shunted onto other benefits unfairly and the result isn't fulfilment but hardship.

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