Mind warns: Benefits shake-up will fail if employers' discrimination continues
Posted Tuesday 4 July 2006
Government must act on disability groups' concerns
Today the Government pressed ahead with its proposed shake-up to Incapacity Benefit (IB) with the publication of the Welfare Reform Bill. Mind cautiously welcomes opportunities the Bill may offer for supporting people with mental health problems back into the workplace. However, the charity has a number of concerns over the practical implementation of the reforms, the use of sanctions and the Government's need to tackle discriminatory attitudes among employers.
Discrimination from employers remains one of the major barriers to employment for people with experience of mental health problems. The Department for Work Pensions' (DWP) own figures reveal that just 37 per cent of employers say they would recruit someone with mental health problems, and a recent Mind survey showed that only 1 in 10 employers had a mental health policy in place. Widespread stigma around mental health issues means that the many people who want to return to work are often unable to do so. While it seems the DWP is beginning to recognise the impact of job-related stress, it must focus its attention on the workplace rather than the workforce.
Mind objects to the use of sanctions that may force people who are still unwell to sign up to work plans for fear of losing their benefit. A mental health problem may make it difficult to attend interviews or sign up to work preparation activities, and the threat of a significant reduction in weekly benefit is only likely to increase distress. Mind believes these reforms should recognise that people need time to build up confidence before returning to work, and assistance to find supportive working environments.
Staff tasked with making decisions on benefit, such as Jobcentre Plus staff and Incapacity Benefit Personal Advisors (IBPAs), need an in-depth understanding of mental health issues in order to make informed decisions about people's ability to work. The fluctuating nature of mental health problems must be recognised and evidence used to make decisions must be comprehensive. Mind firmly believes that the new eligibility test (the Personal Capability Assessment or PCA) should be developed with mental health service users and other representative organisations in order to ensure it fully recognises the complexity of mental health conditions. The new PCA should not be rolled out without significant piloting.
The implementation of these reforms will demand considerable investment from the Government if weaknesses in the existing system, such as staff training, are to be properly addressed, and new initiatives properly resourced. Yet no money has been promised beyond October 2006.
Mind chief executive Paul Farmer said today:
"People with mental health problems need assurance from Government that employers are going to play their part in this too. For many, getting a job isn't just about getting better - it's about finding an employer who will give them the time of day. Supporting people back into work will only succeed if workplaces open their doors to them."