Government’s Back to Work Plan brings welcome investment in supported employment but worrying threat of benefit sanctions, says Centre for Mental Health

16 November 2023

Responding to the new Back to Work Plan announced by the Government today, chief executive Andy Bell said: “We welcome news today that the Government plans to invest further in NHS Talking Therapies provision: we know that timely psychological therapy can be incredibly helpful for people struggling with their mental health. It is vital that any expansion increases the diversity of what is offered, so that access is truly equitable and talking therapy services meet people’s individual needs.

“We warmly welcome plans to expand Individual Placement and Support (IPS), an approach we’ve championed for 20 years which helps people with mental health problems find meaningful, paid work. Many people with mental health problems want to work, but often experience barriers to employment. IPS has been recognised as the most effective approach and we’re hopeful this investment will increase people’s access to effective employment support.

“However, other measures put forward today in the Government’s Back to Work Plan that will increase the threat of benefit sanctions for disabled people are deeply worrying. We know that applying benefit sanctions to people with mental health conditions, or coercing them into jobseeking or ‘work related activity’, is harmful and potentially very dangerous. The evidence is clear that poverty and the threat of sanctions have a toxic impact on people’s wellbeing. We would urge the Government to consider the mental health impacts of any changes. Mandatory activities, with the threat of sanctions if people don’t take part, will do nothing to help people get jobs, and fly in the face of the evidence about why IPS is so successful in helping people to get jobs and enjoy better health.

“There is a very real danger here that the Government takes one step forward and another step back. Any progress made by expanding support could be undermined if accompanied by actions which increase financial hardship. That’s why we continue to call for a cross-government approach to mental health, which recognises the role of social and economic determinants on people’s chances of good mental health.

“We are very worried that claims made about people ‘coasting’ on benefits, and pejorative language towards those who are not in work, will exacerbate the distress many feel. The least well-off need support not sanctions, and enough money to live on, not the threat of even greater impoverishment.”

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