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Mental Health and Employment

Volume 599: debated on Monday 7 September 2015

Across Government we are investing over £40 million in a range of voluntary pilots to explore the most promising and evidence-based approaches to improving the employment prospects of people with mental health conditions. The Access to Work mental health support service also offers support to individuals with a mental health condition who are absent from work or finding work difficult.

Sutton Mental Health Foundation does excellent work in this field. Does my hon. Friend agree that, as well as helping unemployed people into work, it is important to help employed people who develop mental health conditions to remain in work, wherever possible? What are the Government doing to help businesses in this situation, in particular small and medium-sized enterprises, which do not have large HR departments?

As one who has employed someone with a mental health condition, I know the importance of keeping people in work. People with mental health conditions account for 20% of long-term absentees, so in December 2014 we launched the Fit for Work scheme, which helps to tackle sickness absence by providing an occupational health assessment and health and work advice to employees and, crucially, employers. That is particularly important to the smaller businesses that provide 47% of private sector jobs. Also, through the Access to Work scheme, our dedicated team of advisers have helped record numbers of people—more than 1,600 last year.

A joint report from the Methodists, Baptists and United Reformed Churches points out that 100 people with mental health problems are sanctioned every day. Every one of those sanctions reduces the confidence of a person with mental health issues and their hope that they can ever get back into work. Will the Minister look at what is happening with those sanctions? They are destroying confidence, not helping at all.

Over the past year, sanctions fell by 40%. Jobseekers are only asked to meet reasonable requirements, taking into account their circumstances and capability, including mental health conditions, disability and caring responsibilities. Sanctions are not imposed if a jobseeker has good reason for failing to meet those requirements. Also, jobseekers can always ask for decisions to be reconsidered by an independent panel.