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Mentally Ill Staff

Volume 482: debated on Tuesday 11 November 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what information his Department has gathered on the effect of its policies and practices on the recruitment, development and retention of employees with mental illnesses within his Department; and what use has been made of that information. (228551)

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what information his Department has gathered on the effect of its policies and practices on the recruitment, development and retention of employees with mental illnesses within his Department. (234249)

In Northern Ireland, section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 ensures that equality issues, including disability, are integral to the whole range of public policy decision making. Public authorities such as the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) are required to submit equality schemes to the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland.

Section 49A of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA 1995) (as amended by article 5 of the Disability Discrimination (Northern Ireland) Order 2006), which came into force on 1 January 2007, introduced the ‘disability duties’ in Northern Ireland to reflect changes to disability legislation in Great Britain.

Under section 49B of the DDA 1995, the NIO is required to submit a disability action plan to the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland. This plan sets out how it proposes to fulfil the disability duties in relation to its functions and monitor and report on progress.

The NIO is committed to a series of actions which we believe will help remove the attitudinal and environmental barriers experienced by many disabled people. The plan focuses on a number of key areas to help secure improvements: employment; accessibility; communication; and public appointments.

Employee engagement is key to the NIO’s Development and Health and Well Being Strategy and a crucial factor in motivating and retaining our employees.

Since April we have arranged a number of seminars and events which has raised employee awareness of physical and mental health issues and health related articles are published on the NIO’s internal intranet.

In recognising that stress can lead to mental illness we have in place policies on the prevention, recognition and management of stress at work and are currently delivering a “Managing Stress” course mandated for all managers.

The NIO also provides staff with the opportunity to attend the Occupational Health Service, to seek support from the Welfare Support Service or through an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP). The EAP is complementary to the Welfare Support Service and provides an independent, confidential and professional counselling support service for all staff and their immediate family members. These services are available to all staff, and have benefited and assisted those who are absent because of sickness to return to work, and those who are in work to remain in work.

Those public sector bodies which are sponsored by my department but are separately designated with respect to section 75 are responsible for publishing and implementing their own disability action plans.