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Chancellor’s ‘Back to Work’ budget is “anything but”

Wednesday, 15 March 2023 Mind

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Jeremy Hunt, has today announced a number of measures which the UK government has claimed will remove the barriers to work for those who are disabled or out of work with long term health conditions.

Mind is however warning that today’s Budget fails to make any real progress towards achieving this goal. There is nothing in today’s budget which would allow people who are out of work due to a mental health problem to make a full recovery and return to work in a sustainable manner.

The UK government has also today published a White Paper which lays out reforms to the Work Capability Assessment. Mind will be closely reviewing the details in the White Paper, and responding to it in the coming days.

Commenting on the announcements, Sarah Hughes, Chief Executive at Mind, said:

“Today’s budget might have been billed as a ‘Back to Work’ budget, but the truth is that what the Chancellor has delivered today is anything but.

“This budget was a one-dimensional, overly-simplistic approach to a complex, systemic issue. Our society is experiencing widespread poor mental health - people are falling out of work, and struggling to recover when they do fall out of work, because of the failure to tackle this issue.

“There was no funding to better support our NHS services that enable many people’s recovery when they’re in poor mental health. There were no measures that would help prevent people’s mental health from declining in the first place. And there was little to help employers create more mentally healthy workplaces so work is something people can to get back to and stay well while doing.

“If the UK government wants to achieve a society where people who feel recovered and ready to get back to work can do so, they need to be ambitious in tackling the scale of Britain’s mental health problems. Unfortunately, that ambition hasn’t been shown.

On the absence of funding or a workforce plan for mental health services

 “With 1.8 million people on waiting lists for mental health support, it’s deeply troubling that mental health services continue to receive none of the additional funding they so urgently need. Mental health services have faced decades of underfunding in comparison to physical health, and mental health received none of the Covid-19 recovery funding announced in 2021, despite the huge backlogs in mental health care and impact of the pandemic on the nation's mental health.

“Despite a lack of funding, we’re pleased to see the UK government recognise the value of digital support and apps for mental health, as we know from our research that these can help some people access support in a way that works for them. It’s important to remember though that these aren’t a silver bullet to the nation’s mental health problems. Mind’s research suggests people want the choice to have face-to-face support if they need it, which means we still need more investment in services.

“We welcome the Chancellor’s commitment to publish the Long Term Workforce Strategy shortly. Right now, staffing at mental health wards across the country is consistently at unsafe levels so we urgently need to see a fully-costed plan to address this

“Many people who are long term sick have mental health problems. If the UK government are looking to get these people ‘back to work’, they should adequately fund the clinical services that support people before their mental health problems get more severe and help people get better.

On support for local charities, particularly with suicide prevention

“We’re pleased to see the UK government announce £100 million support for the voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sector, with an additional extra £10m over the next two years to help local VCSEs play a bigger role in suicide prevention. Our local Minds play a vital role in supporting people with their mental health, particularly where NHS mental health services have struggled in the face of underfunding to address the rapidly demand for mental health support. Any extra funding to help address these gaps will be welcomed.

On measures for people who are out of work

“Some of the changes announced today, in particular investing in and expanding Individual Placement and Support, are a great first step towards enabling people who are well enough to get back to work. But most people who are out of work with mental health problems can’t get back because they need to focus on their recovery. The UK government’s approach today fails to reflect that, and the positive moves they have made are undermined by their expansion of benefits sanctions.

Our recent report showed the dire state of the current system of both Work Capability and Personal Independence Payment assessments, and so we are particularly concerned by the ramping up of benefit sanctions and the automation of some of the sanctions process. Benefit sanctions do not help people get back to work – they punish people for mistakes and leave people fearful of the benefits system. Stopping or threatening to stop someone’s benefits when they’re too unwell to work is cruel, inappropriate, and ineffective at helping them back into employment, and could actually make people more unwell, pushing them further into poverty and hardship.

"The UK government’s approach to employment support must be led by the needs and wishes of people with mental health problems themselves, giving them choice and control over their own recovery, and only after that, their route back to work.

On announcements for employers

 “The budget is also lacking in effective support for employers to change policy, practice and culture to best support people to be healthy in work. Without that, it's impossible to see how they can expect people who are struggling with their mental health to remain in, or return to, the workplace.

“While the increase in availability of and funding for Occupational Health is welcome, much more needs to be done to allow people with mental health problems to stay in work. For example, we need a Statutory Sick Pay system that works flexibly for people allowing them to make phased returns while not losing out on income, gives people adequate income to get by, and is available to everyone.

On the extension of the Energy Price Guarantee

 “While the news that energy support is to be extended is welcome, we are concerned that energy prices are not the only costs going up for the people we help. People with mental health problems are also struggling with just more than increased costs right now. In addition to the Energy Price Guarantee, we need to see real, systematic change to our benefits system to support those on the lowest incomes.”

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