Last week the latest unemployment figures were unveiled. For every single day that this Government has been in power we have seen an average of 1,000 more people in work.
In total, that’s 1.9 million more people with the self-esteem and financial security that a job brings.
The picture is equally positive for disabled people. The latest statistics reveal a year-on-year increase of 141,000 disabled people in work – the equivalent of nearly 400 more for every day of the year.
However, we must remember that for some people this isn’t the case and, in particular, those with mental health conditions fare far worse in the labour market than other groups.
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The employment rate for people with mental health problems stands at 43%. When you compare this with 60% for people with health conditions in general and 73% for the overall working age population, it is clear that more needs to be done to open up opportunities for this group.
Mental health is often referred to as a hidden disability. It doesn’t manifest itself in a clear physical form and can fluctuate dramatically, meaning that a need for support can vary greatly between days or even years.
Yet the prevalence of people with mental health conditions in society would surprise many. At any given time, 1 in 6 people have a common mental health condition such as anxiety or depression.
Of course, this means that there are a large number of people who manage their condition while in employment thanks to the support they receive in their workplace or from their GP. But we need to help many more to do the same – and reap the psychological as well as financial benefits that having a job can bring.
Last week the Chancellor announced £15 million in the Budget to fund ground-breaking work, providing specialist support in Jobcentres for people with mental health conditions. A new co-location model will allow health professionals to work closely with employment advisors and provide a more joined-up service.
A further £25 million was allocated to provide access to supported online cognitive behavioural therapy for people receiving Jobseekers Allowance and Employment Support Allowance. This will provide support early on to those who need it, helping to ease the transition into or back into employment for those with mental health conditions.
This morning I visited a Jobcentre in Streatham where co-location has already been put into practice and it is clear that being in the same building as other NHS services and primary care providers is allowing a new and integrated approach which puts people at the heart of a network of services. .
With these new approaches and others being piloted across Government I am confident we will be able to break down some of the barriers that people with mental health conditions face in employment.
While progress will be gradual, we are on the right path. It is essential that the next Government builds on the progress that, over the past five years, this one has managed to deliver.