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Labour will help those who have left the workforce due to mental health

(Islandstock / Alamy Stock Photo)

4 min read

It's my priority to help people back to work and into fulfilling employment. A good job opens doors, transforms horizons and provides families with a platform to build a future.

Far too many people are denied such an opportunity after 13 years of Conservative government.

Too often, jobs are low paid and insecure. And when people fall ill, or try to find a job while managing their own health condition, especially a mental health condition, the employment support on offer is ineffective, too little and often too late. 

For months I’ve been warning of the failings in a system that is holding too many back and trapping people out of work leaving them abandoned with inadequate help. 

That’s why Labour has offered new thinking on getting Britain back to work and leading the debate on welfare reform.  

We won’t get our economy motoring and raise living standards unless we tackle the huge rise in economic inactivity – the number of people out of work and not looking for work. This is urgent. We have seen half a million more people fall into inactivity since the start of the pandemic. It is an increase that is larger and more sustained than in any other G7 economy. 

The number who cite long-term sickness as the reason for being out of the workforce has reached its highest ever level: over 2.5 million people. That amounts to 400,000 more than before the pandemic. 

A smaller workforce means lower incomes, lower economic output, and weaker public finances. But it is also devastating for individuals’ lives. What a waste of opportunity when someone wants to work but is left without the support to do so. This is the case for 600,000 people who are long-term sick but want a job. 

1.3 million of those out of the workforce due to long-term sickness have a mental health condition. And that number has climbed in recent years too, up by 200,000 since 2018. 

A smaller workforce means lower incomes, lower economic output, and weaker public finances

People often speak about poor mental health as if it is a phenomenon restricted to younger people. In reality, people have been dropping out of the labour market with a mental health condition across the age spectrum. 

For many months, Labour has been putting forward our plan to help people back to work, while the government dithered and delayed leaving hundreds of thousands of people without the support they want and need. The Spring Budget copied some of Labour’s plan. But for the most part the measures are ill defined, and will not actually start to reach people with mental health conditions who have fallen out of work until months or years down the line. 

When we know ill health is such a brake on economic growth, bringing together welfare and health is the next frontier of welfare reform. I’m a passionate champion of services that do this, and have called for the expansion of Individual Placement and Support (IPS). IPS integrates employment advisers into health settings to help people with severe mental illness find work. But ministers have not matched my ambition on this front.  

Secondly we’ve called for reforms to disability benefit assessments to help people move into work where they want to and can. The government now want to abolish the toxic work capability test as well. But they have failed to explain what will replace it. Ministers should adopt the proposals I outlined earlier this year to offer a bridge back to sickness benefits for those who try work without the need to undergo again a Work Capability Assessment. 

Fundamentally, the government has failed to change the basis on which employment support is designed and delivered. That is why a Labour government will devolve employment services to councils to shape tailored approaches for their areas. When it comes to support for people with mental health conditions to find work, it is especially true that one size does not fit all.

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