Back to work support for people with mental health problems February 2016

Thank you for contacting me recently regarding back-to-work support provided to people experiencing mental health problems.

One in four of us experience a mental health problem every year, but unfortunately this is an area where progress has been too slow across the board, including on back-to-work support. I believe we must have a social security system which is efficient, fair and compassionate but instead the Government's Work programme - their flagship policy for getting people into work - is failing the ill and disabled.

Mind has stated that less than 1 in 10 people with mental health problems have been helped into sustained employment through the Work Programme. I am also aware that a Mind survey found that 83% of people surveyed found the Work Programme had made their mental health condition worse.

Furthermore, the cost of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) this year will be £4.5 billion higher than the Government predicted in 2011, which is a result of both the failure of the Work Programme and the Government's inability to manage disability assessments.

The Government still fails to recognise the need to address the broken sanctions system that has had a disproportionately severe impact on claimants. I am disappointed that during the passage of the Welfare and Work Reform Bill the Government opposed an amendment, tabled by my Shadow Frontbench colleagues, which would have initiated a full and independent review of the sanctions regime.

In November 2015, the Government announced it would be launching a new 'Work and Health' programme, once the current work scheme contracts have ended, to provide specialist support for claimants with health conditions or disabilities and those unemployed for over 2 years. It was also stated that a White Paper would be published in 2016 setting out reforms to improve support.

It is welcome that the Government has acknowledged it needs to do more to support people with long-term illnesses and disabilities to move into work. The introduction of the Work and Health programme provides the Government with a new opportunity to rethink their broken sanctions regime and introduce effective integrated support for those suffering from mental health problems who are ready to move back into the work place. When the Government publishes its White Paper I will look closely at the detail of the proposals, as I believe a radical overhaul of the system is now needed.

I am also concerned about the Government's proposed changes to Employment and Support Allowance, which would see the level of support for new claimants in the WRAG cut by around £30 a week from April 2017. This risks creating a perverse incentive for people with health problems to be placed in the more expensive Support Group of ESA, thereby making is less likely they will receive help to return to work and potentially increasing social security costs.

More widely, to improve their response to mental health issues, I believe the Government needs to restore transparency and accountability on funding for mental health; ensure the right to talking therapies within the NHS constitution; and bring forward a truly cross-departmental plan that outlines priorities, measures progress and evaluates success

Thank you again for writing to me and for sharing your views.