People signed off sick with mental ill health will receive both mental health support and employment advice to help them get back into work
“Helping people access both clinical support for their mental health as well as employment advice gives them the tools they need to get into or return to work. This is vital to helping drive down inactivity and growing our economy so we can deliver more money and support for public services such as these.” Chloe Smith, secretary of state for work and pensions
The government is to try to bring people signed off sick with mental health problems back into the workplace, in a bid to boost economic growth.
Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures show there are 640,000 more economically inactive Britons now than before the pandemic. Of those, 350,000 people have been signed off as long-term sick.
Number 10 announced that it will put £122 million into rolling out an NHS England service, which will enable people who are already receiving mental health support to access employment advice. The aim is to help them stay in work or return to the job market more quickly.
The service will bring therapists and employment advisers together to help people with mental health problems such as anxiety and depression to find work tailored to them. The government says that being in work improves mental health, and that supporting more people into work will both fuel a thriving labour market and increase individual prosperity.
NHS England therapists and employment advisers already work together in 40% of the country. Over the three-year spending review period, the government said, the service will be extended nationally with the recruitment and training of 700 employment advisers, so that up to 100,000 people can receive the combined offer each year from 2024 to 2025.
Chloe Smith, the secretary of state for work and pensions, said that it was “important to recognise the virtuous circle between health and work – we know that giving people the support they need to work is very good for their long-term health.”
She added: “The government’s growth-focused agenda will deliver jobs, higher wages and greater opportunities – and I am delighted that people who have faced barriers to entering the workforce due to poor mental health will now be able to access support across England.
“Helping people access both clinical support for their mental health as well as employment advice gives them the tools they need to get into or return to work. This is vital to helping drive down inactivity and growing our economy so we can deliver more money and support for public services such as these.”
Claire Murdoch, the NHS’s national mental health director, said: “We know that being in work has many benefits for our mental health and wellbeing, from increasing our sense of purpose to providing a structured routine, and while thousands of people already benefit from this ground-breaking service, this wider country-wide rollout means all people struggling with anxiety and depression will be able to access both our usual NHS Talking Therapies offer, via their GP or online registration to their local service, and expert employment advice, in all areas of the country.”
A report published by the London School of Economics earlier this year found mental health problems cost the economy at least £117.9bn a year, equivalent to 5% of GDP. It has previously calculated that 12.7 per cent of all sick days taken by Britons are because of problems such as stress and depression.
On the face of it, this looks like a promising initiative. Research evidence suggests that being in work can improve mental health and wellbeing, and it therefore makes sense to offer access to employment advisers to help find suitable work for individuals already accessing NHS therapeutic services for mental health problems. It’s good to see the government take a supportive approach, rather than a punitive one, to people who are out of work through no fault of their own. The £122m funding for the service is relatively small, however, and the effect may be more modest than the government hopes. Such policies have risks associated with their potential for improvement. Regular communication with people who the change affects should be in place to ensure that if the approach is not working it can be adapted accordingly.