Mentally ill Employees To Get Support At Work

The government is to pilot a project to support people with mental health problems to help them stay in work.

The work and pensions secretary, James Purnell, said yesterday the scheme had been developed with mental health charity Mind and would be piloted in London this autumn to test demand and monitor the effects.

Mind said that under the scheme, employment retention specialists would offer support to employees experiencing mental distress and give tailored advice to help their employers make necessary adjustments.

Purnell said: “We recognise the difficulty around finding the right support at the right time for those with fluctuating conditions. We have been working [on] how we might provide more flexible help.

“We will make support available for people with mental health conditions either already in work and experiencing difficulty, or those about to enter employment, as well as for their employers.

“Crucially, the support will be available when it is needed, waiting in reserve to respond quickly when mental health deteriorates or problems emerge.

“This approach should help increase the confidence of the employee and remove the fear factor from the employer.”

The move follows a commitment in the welfare reform green paper, No One Written Off, to double funding for the Access to Work programme, which pays for extra costs of employing people with disabilities or ill-health. This money will fund the new scheme.

Purnell made the announcement at the launch of a book from the Social Market Foundation thinktank on mental health and welfare reform.

The book, Shifting Responsibilities; Sharing Costs (pdf), calls for tax incentives for employers to provide services or insurance to support workers with mental health problems.

Purnell did not endorse their proposals but welcomed the focus on helping people with mental health problems to work.

It follows calls by Dame Carol Black to replace sick notes with “fitness notes” focused on what patients can do, rather than what their illness stops them doing.

Purnell said it was vital to help people keep their jobs, as work is generally good for wellbeing. Mental health problems cost the British economy more than £40bn a year.

“The market failure is that we are not doing enough to prevent illness – the government failure is we intervene too late,” he said.

As a result more than one million people receive incapacity benefit for mental health conditions – more than the number of people who claim jobseeker’s allowance.

Mind’s chief executive, Paul Farmer, said: “Giving people the right support at the time they need it could make a big difference in helping people experiencing mental distress stay in work.

“It is important that we continue to have a wider debate about mental health and employment particularly against the backdrop of a challenging labour market.”