More than 300,000 UK workers laid off each year due to long-term mental health problems, finds report

Independent review commissioned by Theresa May reveals poor mental health costs UK economy up to £99bn a year

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Thursday 26 October 2017 00:38
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Opportunities are being missed to prevent poor mental health and provide employees with the support they need
Opportunities are being missed to prevent poor mental health and provide employees with the support they need

More than 300,000 people suffering from long-term mental health problems lose their jobs each year, costing the UK economy between £74bn and £99bn, a major new report has revealed.

An independent review into workplace mental health, commissioned by the Prime Minister in January, found that opportunities are being missed to prevent poor mental health and ensure employees who may be struggling get the support they need while in employment.

Analysis by Deloitte shows that around 15 per cent of people at work have symptoms of an existing mental health condition.

This creates an annual cost to employers of between £33bn and £42bn, with over half of the cost coming from presenteeism, when individuals are less productive due to poor mental health in work, and additional costs from sickness absence and staff turnover.

Drawing on accounts of over 200 employers of people with mental health problems and leading experts in mental health and work, the reviewers are calling on all employers, regardless of size or industry, to adopt six “mental health core standards” that lay the basic foundations for an approach to workplace mental health.

These cover mental health at work plans, mental health awareness for employees, line management responsibilities and routine monitoring of staff mental health and wellbeing.

Large employers and the public sector are expected to go even further, demonstrating best practice through external reporting and designated leadership responsibility.

Other recommendations include the creation of an online health and wellbeing portal to help employers access the tools and guidance they need, the use of digital technology as a means to support those working remotely or in the gig economy, and better protection for staff with mental health problems.

Dennis Stevenson, author of the report, said in light of the “demonstrable impact of poor workplace wellbeing” on workers, employers and the UK economy, the Government must accept the recommendations in full and employers must affect change.

“We need the right leadership among employers in the public, private and voluntary sectors, and a mandate from policy-makers to deliver our ambitious but achievable plan,” he said.

“It’s time for every employer to recognise their responsibilities and affect change, so that the UK becomes a world leader in workplace wellbeing for all staff and in supporting people with mental health problems to thrive at work.”

Paul Farmer, chief executive of mental health charity Mind said: “We found that in many workplaces, mental health is still a taboo subject and that opportunities are missed to prevent poor mental health and ensure employees who may be struggling get the support they need.

“In many instances employers simply don’t understand the crucial role they can play, or know where to go for advice and support.

“The human cost of failing to address mental health in the workplace is clear. Workplace mental health should be a priority for organisations across the UK. Every employer in the UK has a responsibility to support employees with mental health problems and promote the mental wellbeing of their entire workforce.”

Responding to the findings, Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England said: “Tackling workplace stress and mental health problems, at source, has the potential to improve the lives of millions of workers in both the private and public sectors. Employers have the opportunity to benefit directly while also lightening the load on the NHS’s expanding mental health services.

“The NHS welcomes the practical steps set out in this important work and will seek to embrace it in its own right as our country’s largest employer.”

Responding to the review, Theresa May said: “We need to take action. That's why I am immediately asking NHS England and the Civil Service, which together employ more than two million people, to accept the recommendations that apply to them.

“With so many of our leading businesses leading the way in this area, and reaping the rewards as a result, I am sure that the private sector will follow suit.

“It is only by making this an everyday concern for everyone that we change the way we see mental illness so that striving to improve your mental health, whether at work or at home, is seen as just as positive as improving our physical wellbeing.”

The Prime Minister also said she plans to write to all Metro Mayors and key business groups to draw attention to the review and encourage them to implement the recommendations in their organisations and across their networks.

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