People with mental health problems need support, not sanctions
Commenting on IainDuncan Smith's speech on welfare, the charity Mind warns that the threat of sanctions hasa negative effect on peoples mental health and 'pushes people further from work.'
Iain Duncan Smith gave a speech on welfare on Monday in which he claimed, among other things, that the Work Programme was the most successful job programme ever. What Duncan Smith neglected to mention is its incredibly poor success rates for people on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), particularly those with mental health problems. Just eight per cent of this group have been helped into work. Over half of the 1.5million currently getting support from ESA are claiming primarily due to a mental health problem, so this is something that needs to be urgently fixed.
The speech did go on to focus on people with mental health problems and the importance of supporting this group to move into and stay in work. However, there was little specific detail about what the Government would do to support people, both in and out of work. While Mind welcomes any efforts to genuinely improve support for people with mental health problems, our experience of previous reforms leaves us cautious about further changes.
People who get in touch with Mind tell us the pressure they are being placed under them is making them more unwell. The threat of sanctions – cutting people’s benefits when they fail to do certain mandatory activities – has a negative effect on people’s mental health and actually pushes people further from work. It is a hugely counterproductive approach. Yet in recent years, most reforms to the system have focused on increasing the requirements placed on people and on punishing them for failing to comply with these requirements.
Monday’s speech hinted at further moves in this direction, with the suggestion that people on ESA (who, let’s remember, have been declared to be currently ‘unfit for work’) should be required to look for part-time work. This will do nothing to actually help people overcome the barriers they face as result of their mental health problem (and how employers respond to it).
There are lots of examples of local models of support that are helping many people with mental health problems move into work, based on strong relationships of understanding and trust between advisers with real expertise in mental health, and the people they are helping. The Government could learn a lot from these schemes.
We agree with Duncan Smith that ESA is not working; we’ve long been calling for a complete overhaul of the system to take into account and address the barriers that people with mental health problems face in getting into and staying in jobs. Now is the time for the DWP to listen to the challenges people with mental health problems face in finding and retaining work, look at what actually works for this group, and create support that helps to overcome these barriers, instead of simply pressurising people to find work.