The government’s new mental health and employment strategy will help reduce discrimination and prejudice, according to the minister for disabled people.
The first national mental health and employment strategy for England, Scotland and Wales aims to encourage employers to take on more people with mental health conditions.
Working our Way to Better Mental Health was one of four mental health reports launched by the government on 7 December.
As part of the strategy, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has set up a new network of Jobcentre Plus mental health coordinators, with one in every district, to improve links between health and employment services.
The access to work programme will be redesigned to offer more help to people with mental health conditions – a move backed by the Employers’ Forum on Disability (EFD).
The DWP is also working on a training programme to raise GPs’ awareness of the positive links between health and work.
And nine new pilot schemes – including one in Wales and one in Scotland – will offer occupational health telephone advice lines to help small businesses keep staff with ill-health in their jobs.
EFD welcomed the advice lines but said the providers would need “an understanding of the workplace and what adjustments are available”.
Jonathan Shaw, minister for disabled people, said providing the right support to employers and employees would ensure a “critical mass” of people with mental health conditions in work.
This would “demonstrate the pool of talent”, leading to “less prejudice” and more confident employers.
Although he did not rule out taking action under the Disability Discrimination Act against local authorities and health trusts that fail to act on employment and mental health, he said: “Before we start threatening legal action, we need to give them the opportunity to use the tools we are offering.”
Shaw also said the government was considering results from an internal review of the work capability assessment, the test for new claimants of out-of-work disability benefits.
The new test has been criticised for its inflexibility, amid concerns that it is failing those with mental health and other fluctuating conditions.
Shaw said: “I am certainly alert to the fact that there have been criticisms around fluctuating conditions.
“We want to ensure the assessment process is doing what we wanted it to do.”
The government also published Work, Recovery and Inclusion, which describes its plans for a “radical increase” in the number of people with the most severe mental health conditions in work by 2025.
8 December 2009