Katrina Gaffney, External Affairs Intern, Money and Mental Health

General Election 2019: Making sick pay work and reforming the benefits system

22 November 2019

In recent years, there has been an increased interest across the political spectrum in how to boost support for people with mental health problems in the workplace. With two million people in the UK currently experiencing mental health problems that affect the amount of paid work they can do – and many facing financial hardship as a result – there is an imperative for the next government to take steps to make employment work for people with mental health problems. 

But politicians also need to be thinking about people with mental health problems who fall out of employment, or who are too unwell to work. That means ensuring that the benefits system provides an adequate safety net, and reforming the system to make it easier for people with mental health problems to engage with.

Here are our election manifesto recommendations on how the next government can help people with mental health problems to stay in work, and improve support for those unable to work:

1. Increase the flexibility of sick pay, to allow preventative, part-time sick leave as well as phased returns to work

Our research has shown that people who take sick leave because of a mental health problem often face severe financial hardship, including falling behind on bills, going without food, and even homelessness. In turn, these financial hardships can make it more difficult for people to recover from mental health problems. There are many people who return to work before they have fully recovered because they can’t afford not to work. This can be harmful for individuals and counterproductive for employers – presenteeism (people attending work whilst they’re unwell) costs up to £26 billion a year. Increasing the flexibility of sick pay would help people to better manage mental health problems in the workplace and help them to avoid the financial hardship that can come with taking a period of sick leave. 

2. Introduce far-reaching reforms to the benefits system to make it work for people with mental health problems

Common symptoms of mental health problems, including reduced concentration, increased impulsivity and memory problems, can leave people struggling to navigate the benefits system. As a result people are missing out on the help they are entitled to. The benefits system needs to be made more accessible for people with mental health problems who might struggle to make phone calls, fill in complex paperwork or attend appointments, and those who can’t engage with the system should not be sanctioned as a result of this.

3. Remove the five week wait for Universal Credit payments

The five week wait for an initial Universal Credit payment can leave people unable to meet basic living costs, and causes unnecessary distress. Money and Mental Health have been proud to support the Trussell Trust’s campaign to end the five week wait for Universal Credit. The next government should reduce this wait so that people receive the help they are entitled to more quickly.