UK Politics

Back-to-work schemes are 'making mental illness worse' says charity

Job centre exterior

The government's back-to-work schemes are ineffective and damaging for people with mental health problems, according to campaigners.

The charity Mind says unemployed people with mental health problems should be moved from mainstream programmes onto a specialist scheme.

Mind surveyed 439 people supported by the government's Work Programme.

The government says it has helped thousands of people with mental illnesses into work.

The coalition government introduced the Work Programme - a key plank in its welfare reform agenda - in 2011. Participants are given support but can face sanctions if they fail to comply with certain conditions.

According to Mind, 83% of people they surveyed said using the programme and the government's job centre services had made their mental health worse.

Three quarters of those polled said they felt less able to work as a result of being on these schemes, the charity said.

At the same time, the schemes were ineffective for people with mental health problems, as only 5% of people had been helped into work, campaigners claimed.

'Perverse'

The charity is calling for the government to introduce a specialist scheme for people with mental health problems. The Work Programme is a government welfare-to-work programme introduced in Great Britain in June 2011.

"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," said Paul Farmer, Mind's chief executive.

"These schemes are not appropriate for people with mental health problems. If someone is out of work because of depression and anxiety, simply asking them to attend a CV writing course is a waste of time and money, as it doesn't address the real problems they are facing.

"Forcing people to engage in these activities, and cutting their benefits if they struggle to do so, is inappropriate and counter-productive.

"This approach assumes people don't want to work and the only way to motivate them is to withdraw financial support, which only causes greater anxiety and stress, and makes returning to work less likely."

A spokesman for the Department of Work and Pensions defended the government's schemes.

"Mind are overlooking the fact that previous jobs schemes simply didn't do enough for people with mental health conditions," he said.

"Everyone is different and so the Work Programme looks at an individual's barriers to work and tailors the support specific to their needs.

"It has already helped thousands of people with mental health conditions into work - instead of just writing people off on sickness benefits as often happened in the past."

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