Video lesson: sickness benefits in the UK

Here’s a fairly topical upper-intermediate level lesson, as we get closer to the general election. I saw this report on Sky News back in mid-February and thought it would be a really good talking point. Apparently, David Cameron is thinking of cutting sickness benefits for people who don’t accept help, or try and help themselves. Most of the report focuses on obesity, but they chuck other things into the mix like alcohol addiction, which seem like a separate issue altogether.

Anyway, take a look…

So this is a completely authentic text. It’s pretty difficult to grasp a lot of it, but learners can definitely get a general understanding of the issues. Obviously this is a touchy topic for some, and the resources I’ve created are designed to provoke discussion and opinions. Consider the audience carefully – mine were students at a humanities school who expressed a desire to learn a bit about the welfare state.

sickness benefits lesson resources

teacher answers

General aims:

  • Students will practise listening for gist and detail in the context of an authentic news report
  • Students will learn about the UK benefits system
  • Students will practising expressing opinions/debating in the context of the provision of state benefits

Lesson time: 90 mins approx


Students discuss the following

What causes someone to become fat?

Elicit ideas (lifestyle, mental health issues, genetics, etc)

Gist task:

Display four pictures like these….

benefits cameron

obese teddy

 (all accessed from Google Images)

At this point, check what students know about the benefits system. Explain the benefits agency is where you go to ‘claim benefits’. Discuss benefits available, and whether students have a similar system in their country.

Explain that we will be watching a news report. The pictures represent themes in the report.

Students discuss: What will the report be about?

(note: the teddy represents ‘sickness’, it always throws them…)

Students watch the video – were their predictions correct?

General comprehension task – Who said what?

Give students the ‘Who said what?’ handout. Ask them to read through the statements listed on the sheet. Now watch the video again, and match the opinion to the correct speaker. They might need a couple of views for this.

Listening for detail

Students complete questions a) to f).

These questions are difficult, so the best way to do this is probably to direct the students to the relevant place in the video for each answer and work through the questions individually. Question b) is particularly hard as it is a difficult accent for the students to understand.

Brief follow-up discussion

Students discuss the questions in the box (see handout)

Follow-up: Cutting benefits activity

Give students the ‘cutting benefits’ activity. This lists various people who claim sickness benefits. Students must decide which two people they would stop giving benefits to, and why. Students can first work alone to do this, then discuss with a partner, then as a small group. Discuss ideas as a class to finish.


There are 2.5 million people on sickness benefits, 1.5 million people have been on sickness benefits for over 5 years.

Outline your ideas for a government scheme to decrease the number of people on sickness benefits due to obesity.

Consider the following:

How will you promote the scheme?

How will you encourage people on sickness benefits to participate in the scheme?

What happens if people don’t want to participate in the scheme?

When will you introduce the scheme?

How long will it last?

How will you judge the success of the scheme? Will you have targets?

Categories: Lesson Ideas, videos

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