Social networkingMental health charity Mind is calling for all people with mental health problems to be taken off mainstream government back-to-work schemes and moved onto a specialist programme.

Research from the charity has found that support provided through the Work Programme and Jobcentre Plus is damaging people’s health and making them feel less able to work than when they started.

A poll of 640 respondents showed 439 were receiving back-to-work support from the Work Programme or Jobcentre Plus primarily because of a mental health problem but only 5% of people have actually been helped into work.

Of those 439, 83% said using back-to-work services through the Work Programme and/or Jobcentre Plus had made their mental health worse or much worse, the same percentage said their self-esteem had got worse or much worse and 82% agreed that their confidence was worse or much worse. Additionally, 76% of those polled said they felt less able to work as a result of being on these schemes.

Shockingly, 86% of respondents said they had needed more support from mental health services and/or their GP, and 24% said they had been hospitalised or sectioned in a mental health crisis while being on back-to-work support programmes.

However, the Employment Related Services Association (ERSA) disputes Mind’s claim that ‘performance is poor’ – targets are being met, including for those on Employment and Support Allowance, it says. But it does agree that jobseekers must be better able to access mental health provision while on the Work Programme.

Evidence to ERSA from providers of the Work Programme indicates that a disproportionate percentage of long-term unemployed jobseekers have mental health conditions. Providers are investing in a range of support for jobseekers, but the programme is not funded to meet the scale and depth of mental health needs in the jobseeker population. These services must be provided by the health service and there is an unacceptable waiting list in some parts of the country for important services such as cognitive behavioural therapy.

Problems exacerbated by being out of work
ERSA also believes that mental health conditions are not detected early enough in many cases. It therefore recommends that the government should make more effort to identify mental health support needs from day one of a jobseeker claim.

Kirsty McHugh, chief executive of ERSA, said: "Too many long-term unemployed jobseekers struggle with poor mental health, often exacerbated by the fact of being out of work itself. Employment support providers already invest in a range of services, including counselling, but the demand outstrips the supply of services available.

"We need to find a way to integrate health and employment services so that those with mental health conditions can access support from a variety of places to help them stabilise their conditions and, when appropriate, move into work."

Currently, people who fail to engage with activities asked of them may have their benefits stopped for a period of time, causing a great deal of distress as well as financial problems. Department of Work and Pensions figures show that people with mental health problems are having their benefits cut more than those with other conditions, according to a response to a Freedom of Information request from June.

Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, concluded: "Just 5% of people with mental health problems are being helped into work, while the vast majority tell us their health has worsened and they feel less able to work as a result of being on these schemes. It’s perverse that programmes which are supposed to help those who are unwell and struggling to get into work are having the opposite effect, damaging their health."