The Government's new green paper on work, health & disability has a few positives but we have major concern.
Last month, the Government launched a green paper - a major consultation into how they can support disabled people and people with health conditions to find and stay in work. They’ve come up with a lot of proposals about what they can do differently. There are some positive things, but we have major concerns.
We want to see better voluntary support for people with mental health problems who need help to return to work. We also want to see real recognition that people who are too unwell to think about returning to work should not endure inappropriate pressure.
There are some announcements in the green paper that appear positive. There’s a proposal to make sick pay more flexible which means if you’ve taken time off work you can return at a pace that makes sense for you. The Government are also looking at how the NHS could provide more support to help people manage their mental health at work. We want to see this happen but the Government must ensure funding and resources are there to make it work.
There’s also a proposal to give Jobcentre staff proper mental health training and to recruit more people who understand mental health. All too often people tell us Jobcentre staff don’t understand how their mental health affects them –this needs to change.
The green paper announces funding for things like peer support groups. It also recognises that, for lots of people, Jobcentres just aren’t the right places to be – and that getting voluntary help in the community would be a lot better. This is encouraging but we want it to become a reality with proper funding and resources. This will give people with mental health problems the power to choose the support that’s going to work best for them.
You might have already seen in the news that the Government have said they want to change the Work Capability Assessment. We’ve been calling for this for several years.
People tell us that the current test doesn’t understand how people’s mental health really affects them – instead it makes them even more anxious. But one of the Government’s suggestions for reform is to make the test just about the money you receive, and not about whether you’ll be required to go to a Jobcentre and take steps towards work. This would give Jobcentre staff the power to sanction people who are currently in the ESA Support Group.
Everyone should get offered support to help them return to work if they want to, but threatening to cut the benefits of people who are very unwell is cruel, inappropriate and doesn’t work.
We want to see the Work Capability Assessment overhauled so that it understands people’s mental health a lot better – and shouldn’t mean putting more people through the fear and anxiety caused by threats to their benefits.
At this stage lots of the ideas in the Green Paper, good and bad, are just proposals.
We’ll keep on campaigning for the Government to reform the system so that people with mental health problems are helped to get meaningful support without the threat of sanctions.
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