The Department for Work and Pensions has this week published its forecasts looking at the support the Government offers to those suffering from poor physical and mental health. It points to a significant increase in those suffering from anxiety and depression.
Data from the Government says that those claiming sickness benefits currently stands at 3.2 million people claiming £23 billion in sickness benefits. Its forecasts suggest this will increase to £31 billion by 2028-29.
This is in addition to the 5.5 million people currently claiming disability benefits, which the Department for Work and Pensions expects to increase to 7.6 million people by the end of the decade. The fastest-rising group are those suffering from anxiety and depression.
Of course, many people continue to work whilst claiming disability benefits and the Government is looking at ways to encourage more people back into the workplace. Its ‘Back to Work’ programme that offers a range of therapies from gardening to running clubs to improve physical and mental health has already helped over 300,000 people find new jobs.
The increase in sickness and disability is complex but is in part due to an aging population and increased awareness and changing attitudes to mental wellbeing. Efforts to encourage more people into work and to reduce benefits will likely be one of the pillars of the 2024 General Election.
Mental health and the law
Employers need to be supportive of staff who struggle with poor mental health. They have a legal obligation to do so.
Employers have a duty of care to their employees and that extends to both their mental and physical wellbeing. This includes ensuring the workplace is a safe environment, protecting staff from discrimination and, where appropriate, carrying out risk assessments.
The 2010 Equality Act offers staff legal protection considering them disabled if poor mental health has a substantial adverse effect on their life, if it lasts or is expected to last at least 12 months, and affects their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. This might include struggling to follow instructions, taking longer to complete a task or being unable to maintain set working times.
Employers must not discriminate against staff with a disability and, where possible, make reasonable adjustments. This positive duty to make reasonable adjustments is unique to the laws around disability discrimination and requires employers to think outside the box and be proactive. The starting point in determining what reasonable adjustments to make is usually an occupational health assessment.
A mental health workplace policy is also an important starting point in defining how a business supports its workforce.
This policy could also look to redress the stigma that often surrounds mental illness: a careless comment or action from a colleague or line manager can easily leave the organisation exposed to potential tribunal claims.
A mental health workplace policy can be reinforced by regular training that recognises the different ways we now choose to work and the mental health issues that can arise. A culture that supports good mental health and wellbeing, where employees feel comfortable discussing these issues without fear of ridicule or sanction has to be a positive thing.
There are good financial and legal reasons for businesses to tackle this mental health crisis.
Contact our Employment Solicitor
The above is accurate as at 11 January 2024. The information above may be subject to change.
The content of this note should not be considered legal advice and each matter should be considered on a case-by-case basis.