Mental health launch: intensive support will boost numbers in work


Prejudice, low expectations and a lack of support are denying people with mental health conditions the chance to work according to a major new review.

Realising Ambitions – commissioned by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) – says more than a million people with mental health conditions are claiming welfare benefits, with probably twice as many out-of-work.

It was one of four reports around mental health launched by the government on 7 December.

The review, led by Dr Rachel Perkins, a mental health service-user and a director at South West London and St George’s Mental Health NHS Trust, examines what can be done – outside the benefits system – to help people with mental health conditions into work.

The report calls for intensive, specialised support, based on the individual placement and support (IPS) approach Perkins has pioneered in the UK, in which people are helped to get a job and there is long-term support for both employers and employees.

Perkins said there should be “quite significant” changes to the access to work (ATW) scheme, so people can discover their eligibility before applying for a job, and employees and employer can call on support when needed.

Currently, less than one per cent of ATW claimants have a mental health condition.

The review also says small businesses should be able to use ATW to fund temporary cover if an employee is on long-term sick leave for an impairment-related reason.

And it recommends further changes to the “permitted work” rules, which allow people to work part-time while still receiving benefits so as to ease their path towards full-time work.

The government already allows those on employment and support allowance or incapacity benefit to earn £93 a week for up to a year without their benefits being affected.

But the review says this should be extended to all who could benefit, including many people with mental health conditions on income support or jobseeker’s allowance.

Perkins said she was also “very concerned” at the lack of connection between employment services and health and social services.

Other recommendations include: more focus in the welfare-to-work system on assisting people with mental health conditions, and regular monitoring of their job status by health, social services and the DWP; employment specialists to be “embedded” in all mental health and social services teams; and Jobcentre Plus to arrange internships to ease people’s transition from benefits to paid work.

The review concludes that the government and public sector have often “lagged behind” the private sector in providing jobs for those with mental health conditions.

Perkins said she was “really pleased” that the government had appeared to accept the ATW recommendations, but hoped it would go further on permitted work.

Caroline Ellis, joint deputy chief executive of RADAR, said the review, if implemented in full, would “make the right to work real for hundreds of thousands of talented people”, ending injustice and reaping “huge dividends for our economy”.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said it knew that IPS can be “effective and cost-effective” and the review had formed a “blueprint” for local areas to put it into practice.

8 December 2009

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