In today’s Autumn Statement the Chancellor delivered a number of changes to the benefits system, announcing that people with mobility and mental health problems may be compelled to look for work that they can do from home.
Under the new system, people out of work will be required to take part in a mandatory work placement, if they have not found a job after 18 months. They will also have their benefits stopped, if they have not engaged with the work search process for six months.
The Chancellor outlined previously announced plans to offer 500,000 more people treatment for mental illness, and specialist employment support. This includes investment in NHS Individual Placement and Support (IPS) to help people with severe mental illness.
Mental illness is one of the most common reasons for being unable to work.
In response to the 2023 Autumn Statement, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Dr Lade Smith CBE, said:
“The College welcomes greater investment in specialist support to help people with severe mental illness back into work. However, we are concerned by plans to increase the use of benefit sanctions that do not take into account an individual’s situation, and which are known to cause systemic harms.
“These plans will undoubtedly lead to significant additional costs elsewhere from the public purse, particularly in the NHS.
“It is unfortunate that the Government have chosen to present working from home as a ‘silver bullet’ that makes the workplace accessible to anyone with a severe mental illness. Disability does not end when someone is at home.
“We are glad that the Government has accepted our recommendation to expand NHS Individual Placement and Support (IPS) for people with severe mental illness. We are also pleased to see additional investment promised for NHS talking therapies, and £10 million for veterans’ mental health.
“Not everyone with mental illness, particularly those with severe mental illness, will recognise that they may have a disability. Job coaches will require further training to recognise and support individuals who are eligible for NHS IPS support.
“It is not clear whether the package of investment will support enough people to stop the harms caused by the work capability assessment, that psychiatrists see every day.
“Many people with severe mental illness require hands-on support to facilitate a return to work, which home working doesn’t always allow for. They may struggle to pay for electricity, heating, and digital access such as wi-fi, all of which are necessary to work from home.
“Forcing those with severe mental illness into remote working could easily set them up to fail. Working from home can increase the risk of social isolation. Social isolation is associated with an increase in mental disorder and even suicidal ideation.
“Ultimately, what the Government saves in reducing benefit payments, could easily be overshadowed by the rising cost of supporting people facing hardship, debt and mental health crisis.”