Employers and the government ‘must do more’ to tackle mental ill-health

MPs identify need for workplaces to develop ‘preventative strategies’

Politicians urged employers to address employees’ mental ill-health and expressed their scepticism for the government’s efforts to tackle the problem in Parliament yesterday. 

In a Westminster Hall debate on the financial effects of absence from work due to mental health problems, several MPs noted the government needed to do more to prevent a mental health epidemic and ease the burden on workers who do struggle with mental health issues. 

Craig Tracey, Conservative MP for North Warwick and the politician bringing the motion, cited statistics showing one in four Brits would suffer from a mental health problem at some point in their lives. This, in turn, had big consequences for businesses and the overall British economy.

“Clearly we need to look at ways in which companies can develop preventative strategies ensuring the right life-work balance, developing a holistic understanding of wellness while also encouraging staff to look after both their physical and mental health wellbeing,” Tracey said.  

Tracey welcomed the government’s funding efforts, but noted problems persisted. Paula Sherriff, Labour MP for Dewsbury and shadow minister for mental health, was more critical. She said that while the government “talked a big talk” when it came to tackling mental health, little was actually done, and government economic policies had a direct impact on workers’ mental health. 

Sherriff said she felt austerity measures had brought consequences for insecure workers, such as low earners and the self-employed, and questioned the government’s engagement with tackling precarious work conditions. 

Speaking on behalf of the government, Nigel Adams, junior minister in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, said that the government had taken big steps, including “investing record levels” into mental health. 

He pointed out the government planned to spend £11.9bn on the NHS in this financial year and also mentioned the commitment to increase the NHS budget by more than £20bn in the next five years.

However, Adams agreed that companies needed to take more responsibility and find strategies to deal with mental ill-health. 

The government-commissioned Stevenson/Farmer review, which was published in October 2017, found mental ill-health cost employers up to £42bn per year, and cost the overall British economy a staggering £99bn. According to the report, 300,000 British workers will lose their jobs because of mental health issues. 

Meanwhile, a survey by the British Chambers of Commerce and Aviva, published this August, revealed almost a third (30 per cent) of businesses had seen an increase in employees affected by mental ill-health over the last three years.

“Addressing the culture, putting people at the heart of the business, investing in educational programmes that support people in staying well – these are the obligations of all employers from which all parties will benefit and the massive costs of ill health [will be] reduced,” Dr Barbara Mariposa, associate of wellbeing network Work Well Being, told People Management

“We must de-medicalise the conversation about mental health in the workplace and recognise that it is not the people who are failing and broken but the system that is failing them,” she added.