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11.12.14

Back-to-work schemes ‘damaging’ for people with mental health problems

Government back-to-work schemes are ineffective and damaging to those with mental health problems, according to campaigners.

The charity Mind is calling for people with mental health problems to be taken off government back-to-work schemes and moved onto a specialist programme.

Research by the charity has found that support provided through the Work Programme and Jobcentre Plus is ineffective for people with mental health problems. Figures obtained by Mind from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) show that of the 1.5 million total people who went through the Work Programme between 2011 and 2014, 21% found work. However of the 144,970 people with mental health problems who went through the programme in the same period, only 6% found work.

Mind also surveyed 439 people who were receiving support primarily because of their mental health. Of these, 83% said using back-to-work services through the Work Programme and Jobcentre Plus had made their mental health ‘worse’, another 83% said their self-esteem had got ‘worse’ or ‘much worse’ and 82% agreed that their confidence was ‘worse’ or ‘much worse’.

Three-quarters of those polled said they felt less able to work as a result of being on these schemes.

Shockingly, 86% of respondents said they had needed more support from mental health services or their GP, and nearly one in four (24%) had been hospitalised or sectioned in a mental health crisis while being on these back-to-work support programmes.

According to Mind’s research these schemes are even damaging the mental health of individuals who haven’t got a diagnosed mental health problem. They surveyed 200 people who said a mental health problem wasn’t the main reason they needed support and of these, 81% said it had made their mental health worse, 86% agreed that their self-esteem had become worse, and 86% said their confidence was worse.

Mind is calling for everyone with mental health problems to be offered an alternative scheme that would provide more specialised support to help them back into work.

Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, said: “Just 5% of people with mental health problems are being helped into work, while the vast majority tell us their health has worsened and they feel less able to work as a result of being on these schemes. It’s perverse that programmes which are supposed to help those who are unwell and struggling to get into work are having the opposite effect, damaging their health.

“These schemes are not appropriate for people with mental health problems. If someone is out of work because of depression and anxiety, simply asking them to attend a CV writing course is a waste of time and money, as it doesn’t address the real problems they are facing. Forcing people to engage in these activities, and cutting their benefits if they struggle to do so, is inappropriate and counter-productive. This approach assumes people don’t want to work and the only way to motivate them is to withdraw financial support, which only causes greater anxiety and stress, and makes returning to work less likely.

“We need everyone who is out of work because of their mental health problem to be placed onto new, locally commissioned schemes which reflect individual and local needs. Such a scheme would take a personalised, tailored approach which really understands and addresses the complex nature of mental health problems and how they can impact someone’s ability to find and keep a job.”

DWP figures show that people with mental health problems are also having their benefits cut more than those with other conditions, something that Mind says is a further example of how back-to-work support schemes are particularly ineffective for this group.

A spokesman for the DWP defended the government's schemes.

"Mind are overlooking the fact that previous jobs schemes simply didn't do enough for people with mental health conditions," he said. "Everyone is different and so the Work Programme looks at an individual's barriers to work and tailors the support specific to their needs.

"It has already helped thousands of people with mental health conditions into work - instead of just writing people off on sickness benefits as often happened in the past."

(Image: c. HelenCobain)

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