RCPsych responds to Government’s Back to Work Plan

Statement / comment
16 November 2023

The Government has accepted the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ recommendation to use evidence-based NHS services when supporting people with a mental illness back to work.

The College has long called for the Government to explore how NHS Individual Placement and Support (NHS IPS) can be used more widely, to provide intensive support for people with severe mental illness, and help them return to work if it is appropriate.

The model is an effective alternative to the use of benefits sanctions, which typically cause deterioration in the health of people with mental illness.

The Government will fund a further 100,000 people with mental illness over five years to access NHS IPS, in addition to significantly increasing access to NHS Talking Therapies to an extra 384,000 people over five years, on top of the increase in access already planned through the delivery of the NHS Long Term Plan.

It has also been announced that people who do not engage in work preparedness will face tougher benefits sanctions – which the College fears could see an increase in financial hardship, debt, and mental health crisis.

Dr Lade Smith CBE, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said:

“People with mental illness and severe mental illness should return to work when it is right for them to do so. When they do, they should have access to specialist support that helps them overcome any barriers they might face. We are very glad that the Government has accepted our recommendation to expand NHS Individual Placement and Support for people with severe mental illness, as a therapeutic alternative, that does not cause the further harm that can arise from workplace assessments.

“Not everyone with mental illness, particularly those with severe mental illness, will be able to recognise that they may have disability, and that this might impact their ability to work. It is important that job coaches at the Work Centre have the right training to identify and support these individuals, so they receive their full eligibility of benefits, and avoid punitive sanctions. 

“We would like to see the IPS model adapted for people with common mental health conditions. The College looks forward to seeing more detail from the Government on its proposals for Work Well and the Universal Support Programme, and what additional help these will provide to people who are unemployed and may be struggling with their mental health.

“The College also welcomes new funding to help treat those with common mental disorders. However, our own research has recently found inequalities of access to NHS Talking Therapies for people from minoritised ethnic backgrounds, and for those with limited digital access. New funding must be used wisely to reduce these inequalities in access, and provide more face-to-face appointments for those who need them, including older adults.

“Although we welcome these announcements, we continue to be concerned that the Government intends to make benefits sanctions even tougher for people who do not engage in work preparedness. There is a well-established link between someone losing benefits, facing serious hardship, and experiencing a deterioration in their mental health. This is out of keeping with the principles of fairness and person centeredness which underlie welfare and employment policies, and are central to IPS.

“An approach that punishes people with mental health problems for needing benefits simply adds to systemic harms, and we are glad that the Government seems to be recognising this. There remains a real risk that money the Government saves helping people back to work, could be overshadowed by the economic cost of more people entering crisis after losing benefits.”

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