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Mental Health (Employment Opportunities)

Volume 591: debated on Monday 26 January 2015

4. What progress he has made on supporting people with a mental health condition to find work. (907176)

The Government are committed to helping people with mental health problems into work. We are piloting a number of innovative approaches to employment support for those with mental health problems, and the Access to Work mental health support service can help people with a mental health condition who are absent from work or who are finding it difficult to get back into work.

Mental health issues in Fylde are as serious as they are anywhere else, so what plans does the Minister have to support further people with mental health conditions throughout the Disability Confident campaign?

I am pleased that my hon. Friend mentions the Disability Confident campaign. I have invited Members from both sides of the House to talk about Disability Confident at an event in the House on Wednesday. Specifically on mental health, I had the privilege last Thursday to visit the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) and to meet with the work coaches in the jobcentre and with those who have been on some of our pilot programmes to hear about the success we have had in encouraging people with a mental health problem to get back into work, or to avoid having one in the first place.

Will the Minister join me in recognising the importance of the voluntary sector in helping those with mental health issues to get back into work? Organisations such as Relate in my constituency work tirelessly to improve mental health and provide vital counselling that allows people to get back into work and progress with their careers.

I am happy to pay tribute to organisations such as the one my hon. Friend has just mentioned. The important thing is to have a proper partnership with Jobcentre Plus, voluntary and third-sector organisations, the NHS and employers working together to ensure that we stop people from falling out of work if they develop a mental health problem, and that they can get back into work if they do so.

I cannot be the only person in the House today who finds it utterly heartbreaking when people come to their surgery unable to find work. Those people are often more than capable of working but, because of a fear of stigmatisation and an absence of support, they are unable to find that work. I praise the hon. Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies) for setting an example in this area. Following on from the good work of Waitrose and Tesco, can we not do more in this House to set an example, because we are after all a major employer?

The hon. Gentleman is right. One thing we are doing through our Disability Confident campaign is ensuring that employers are aware not only of those with physical disabilities but of those with mental health problems. There was, for a period, a statutory bar on Members of Parliament serving in this House in this respect. When I was in Opposition I challenged the then Justice Secretary on the matter, and this Government have now delivered change to ensure that we set a good example. We now say that if someone has a mental health problem, they are just as capable as anyone else to work both as a Member of Parliament and as staff in the House.

On that matter, the Minister of State wisely heeded the recommendation of the Speaker’s Conference on Parliamentary Representation, which enjoyed all-party support.

Voluntary sector organisations working with the most vulnerable claimants are expressing concerns that people with mental illness are still over represented among those being sanctioned. Does the Minister accept that there is still a problem here, and what more can he do about it?

Just before I answer the hon. Lady, let me say that I am happy to agree with you, Mr Speaker, that your conference showed great leadership, which we were happy to follow. I think that it is wise to acknowledge that from the Dispatch Box—[Laughter.] The Secretary of State says keep going. The hon. Lady makes a serious point about sanctioning. We have to make sure in the Department and Jobcentre Plus that if someone on employment and support allowance does not engage with the help they are given, we understand why they do not engage with it and then deliver proper support. Last week, when I was looking at the pilots, I was trying to see how we better engage with that mental health support to ensure that we give people the support both to stay in work, and to get back to work, if they have a mental health problem.

I was delighted to welcome the Minister to the Olive Tree café which provides opportunities for more than 30 people to rebuild their confidence and skills. That has been achieved through a successful social enterprise. How can we share that best practice?

My hon. Friend invited me to visit the Olive Tree café in his constituency on a day that I also spoke at a mindful employer event, which again focused on mental health, at the constituency of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland). We can use our Disability Confident campaign to get those messages out there. My hon. Friend, by using the benefits of this House, has ensured that the message will be heard far and wide.

In the past year, a number of people have written to me who are finding it hard to stay in work because they are getting very poor support in the workplace, and sometimes they are having difficulty accessing mental health support. What discussions has the Minister had with employers and his colleagues in the Department of Health about how we can tackle that? If those people cannot stay in work and become unemployed, they may have difficulty getting back into work again.

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, to which I would say two things in reply. First, people who are in work can be referred to the Access to Work mental health support service, to get support delivered to them to enable them to stay in work. Secondly, the NHS now recognises that it has an important part to play here, and for the first time we have set out access requirements for mental health services, which will start this April.

Why is no help available to get people with mental health problems back on to employment and support allowance, when they have voluntarily come off ESA and gone on to jobseeker’s allowance, wrongly believing that they were fit to work, only to be sanctioned for failing to comply with their jobseeker’s agreement because of their mental illness?

One of the things that our work coaches in the jobcentre are able to do is flex the claimant commitment people make according to the claimant’s health condition. What should happen in such cases is that, if the individual remains on JSA, their work coach can alter the conditions to deal with that. If the hon. Gentleman has specific examples where that has not happened, I would be delighted if he wrote to me so that we can look into those cases.

Just at the time that many young people leave full-time education, those battling mental health problems are also having to navigate their transition from adolescent to adult mental health services. Is it not essential that those services are there to support them at the very time we are looking to them to embark on their working lives?

My hon. Friend makes a good point, and we are doing several things in that respect. First, we are looking at properly joining up the education, health and care assessments people have at school and the disabled students’ allowance application made when they go to university. We are also working closely with the Department of Health to make sure that mental health services are properly integrated with the world of work.