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Government must follow evidence on mental ill health and work, says Centre for Mental Health

19 April 2024

The Prime Minister’s comments about mental health and work are not based on robust evidence and could lead to policies and practices that do more harm than good, Centre for Mental Health has warned.

Responding to Rishi Sunak’s claims of a ‘sicknote culture’ where mental ill health is confused with ‘everyday challenges and worries’, Centre for Mental Health chief executive Andy Bell said: “There is clear evidence that mental ill health is becoming more prevalent among younger people in particular. And mental health services are struggling to grow fast enough to keep up with rising demand for essential support.

“Suggesting that this is due to an over-medicalising of the everyday challenges of life, while too many people struggle to access the mental health support they need, may discourage people from seeking vital support when they need it.

“Being in work can be positive for many people’s mental health, but only in workplaces with good working conditions, fair treatment and decent pay. Supporting better mental health at work would help more people to fulfil their potential and return to work if they need time off for their mental or physical health.

“The UK’s sick pay system does require reform to better respond to the needs of people with mental health difficulties. But this must be based on evidence about what people need and what helps people to recover and get back to work when they are ready. Research suggests that a more generous sick pay system would actually result in net benefits for businesses and the wider economy.  

“The Prime Minister’s suggestion that Personal Independence Payment eligibility may be further restricted for people with mental health problems will cause great concern to many people for whom this benefit is a lifeline. PIP is a benefit paid regardless of whether a disabled person is in work or not to help with the extra costs of being disabled. It’s already hard to get and restricting it further will cause yet more people to lose out on vital support.

“If the disability benefits system is ‘unsustainable’ the Government should take action to deal with the causes of higher numbers of people needing support for their mental health, not take away the help people get to deal with the consequences.

“Changing who provides fit notes from GPs to ‘work and health professionals’ will do little to help people get support for their mental health or improve the identification of mental health problems when a speedy and accurate diagnosis is needed to get access to the right support.

“Rising numbers of people who are out of work due to mental ill health reflect higher levels of need, driven by the pandemic, cost-of-living crisis and cuts to public health services. The system for determining eligibility for disability benefits is different to GP sickness certification. The current Work Capability Assessment tends, if anything, to underestimate the impact of mental health difficulties on people’s ability to work. It, too, needs reform, but to be replaced by a system that is fairer, more compassionate and better able to assess people’s health and its relationship with their work.

“The Government is rightly investing in Individual Placement and Support (IPS) employment services for people with mental health difficulties who would like the chance to get into paid work. We know that these are highly effective. But they risk being undermined by policies that put more people with mental health problems at risk of benefit sanctions.

“We urge the Government to heed the evidence about what will support people to enjoy better mental health at work, to get or keep the right jobs for them, and to access the support they’re entitled to when they need it.”

Tag: Policy

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