Half of ‘economically inactive’ people have mental health condition

Analysis by the House of Commons library shows that 1.3m people who are not in employment or looking for work have a mental health condition

28th February 2023 about a 3 minute read
"Government failures risk a generation of growing numbers left on the margins with no prospect of returning to sustainable, well-paid work.” Jonathan Ashworth, shadow work and pensions secretary

Of the 2.5m people who are currently economically inactive as a result of long-term sickness, 1.3m – more than half – have a mental health condition.

The figures, published in an analysis by the House of Commons library, also show that 639,000 workers aged 50 to 64 were inactive due to a mental health condition in July-September 2022, while there were 225,000 people aged 16 to 34, and 447,000 aged 35 to 49, not in work for the same reason. The Labour Party said that the 1.3m figure represented an increase of 20% since 2018.

The term “economically inactive” refers to people who are neither in employment nor looking for work.

Responding to the figures, Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow work and pensions secretary, told the Health Foundation last week: “Many people with a job want to work, including people with mental health conditions. Yet Tory ministers are missing in action, failing to offer any reforms to help people. Government failures risk a generation of growing numbers left on the margins with no prospect of returning to sustainable, well-paid work.”

Ashworth added that a Labour government would provide personalised help to those with health conditions who want a job, and would guarantee access to mental health treatment in less than a month for all who need it.

A spokesperson for the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) said: “We recognise one of our biggest challenges is how to support people to start or return to work, which is why the department is thoroughly reviewing workforce participation to understand what action should be taken on increased economic inactivity.

“As part of this work, we’re looking at plans to improve support for disabled people and people with long-term health conditions.”

Scotland first minster should ‘tackle the root causes of poor mental health’

Meanwhile, in Scotland, the Mental Health Foundation has said that the next first minister should tackle the country’s mental health emergency by tackling the cost-of-living crisis. The foundation has highlighted research showing the impact that rising prices is having on people in Scotland. The survey, carried out by Opinium in November, found that more than half of Scots (52%) were worried about not being able to afford food and almost two-thirds (65%) were concerned about paying their monthly household bills.

More than two-fifths (43%) of Scots were worried about not being able to make their rent or mortgage payments.

Shari McDaid, head of policy and evidence at the foundation, said action was needed to “tackle the root causes of poor mental health, including poverty and inequality”.

She added: “The next first minister of Scotland must be ready to take on the current public mental health emergency, inflamed by the cost-of-living crisis, on their first day in office. This means clear actions that will tackle the root causes of poor mental health, including poverty and inequality.

“It means redoubling efforts to mitigate the impacts of the cost-of-living crisis, preventing financial stress by increasing income support and advice, increasing funding to safeguard community organisations and facilities, and ensuring that frontline workers are trained and empowered in trauma-informed service delivery and provide a compassionate response to people experiencing financial strain or poor mental health.

“As the old adage goes, ‘your health is your wealth’, so no potential leader can claim to have the strategy to deliver prosperity without ensuring that every government decision is assessed in terms of its impact on public mental health.

“There is no better measure to determine the success of a nation than the mental health and wellbeing of its people.”

FCC Insight

The figures showing that 1.3m economically inactive people have a mental health condition demonstrate the importance of treating mental health conditions with the same parity as physical health conditions. The country has a labour force shortage which could be addressed by bringing more people back into work – yet waiting lists for mental health treatment continue to grow. At the same time, as the Scottish figures show, greater poverty and financial strain can lead to worse mental health. The government needs to take a two-pronged approach, tackling both the cost-of-living crisis and redoubling efforts to cut mental health waiting lists.