Government back-to-work schemes ‘failing’ people with mental health problems

Campaigners call for creation of specialist employment support programme better suited to mental health as Work Programme 'ineffective' for client group

People with mental health problems are being damaged by the government’s back-to-work schemes and should be moved onto specialist employment support programmes better tailored to their needs, according to campaigners.

Research by the mental health charity Mind found that support provided through the Work Programme and JobCentre Plus was ineffective for people with mental health problems.

The charity surveyed 439 people supported by the Work Programme. Of those surveyed, 83% said using the programme and JobCentre Plus services had made their mental health worse. Three-quarters of respondents said they felt less able to work as a result of being on the schemes.

‘Schemes inappropriate for people with mental health problems’

Official figures included in a Department of Health report published last month showed that, despite Britain’s unemployment rate falling sharply since the middle of 2013, the percentage of people in touch with secondary mental health services who were in paid jobs fell from 8.8% in 2012-13 to 7.1% in 2013-14.

Paul Farmer, Mind’s chief executive, said it was “perverse” that programmes designed to support people were actually damaging their mental 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,” he said.

“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.”

‘Tailored support needed’

Mind said a new specialist scheme should be created for people with mental health problems on Employment and Support Allowance. It pointed to the Individual Placement and Support approach as the ‘best model currently available’. The IPS model takes a ‘place then train’ approach and provides individualised support for the person and their employer to identify paid employment that matches the person’s interests.

Research by the National Development Team for Inclusion (NDTI) published earlier this year found that only a third of the spending by local authorities on employment support for people with mental health problems or learning disabilities went on evidence-based programmes such as IPS schemes. Spending on employment support had dropped from £43m in 2011-12 to £39.7m in 2012-13, the research showed.

Rob Greig, chief executive of the NDTI, said Mind’s findings echoed his organisation’s research and a move to more tailored employment support was needed.

“If evidence-based approaches (such as IPS) are used are used to support people with mental health problems into work, then success rates are achieved that are way above those of mainstream work programmes. The evidence of what types of support work is publicly available and it is really frustrating when government and those funding employment supports ignore it in favour of approaches which are shown to have little, if any, success,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Department of Work and Pensions defended the government’s approach.

“Mind are overlooking the fact that previous job schemes 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.”

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