Two thirds of economically inactive people with long-term illness report mental health problems, data finds

Experts remind firms to focus on preventative support when establishing benefits packages as report exposes the impact of mental ill health on economy

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Just under two thirds (60 per cent) of people who are economically inactive because of long-term illness are living with a mental health problem, research has found. 

Analysis of official data by IPPR found that while issues such as anxiety and depression are affecting people of all ages, young adults (20-29 years old) out of the labour market because of sickness are 50 per cent more likely to report a mental health problem than older working-age adults (60-65).

It found 2.5 million people are inactive because of their health, which is allegedly the “highest level since records began”, and attributed the rise in economic inactivity to sickness among young adults. Inactivity has risen by two fifths (42 per cent) among 25-34 year olds, versus 16 per cent among 50-64 year olds.

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HR consultant Gemma Bullivant said her clients were reporting “exceptionally long NHS waiting lists for mental health services” because it is overwhelmed, and that, as a result, employers needed to put more thought into their benefits packages. “Employers need to consider this wider context when establishing both their benefits framework and working practices in relation to physical and mental health,” said Bullivant. 

She said a “holistic range of postvention support, such as private counselling services and PMI, alongside a much stronger focus on preventative support”, would be beneficial, as well as mental health education for managers to provide the “confidence to enable employees to open up about mental health challenges and ways to self manage and/or access the support needed”.

The IPPR Getting better? Health and the labour market report featured analysis of a range of publicly available data from sources such as the Office for National Statistics.

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The analysis highlighted that just under a third (31 per cent) of young adults aged 18-29 who were out of the labour market because of health said they had autism spectrum disorder, while disabilities and problems relating to legs or feet were most prevalent for more than half (53 per cent) of economically inactive adults aged 60-65. 

It also revealed that three quarters (75 per cent) of those economically inactive people had two or more overlapping conditions, while half (50 per cent) had three or more and a quarter (25 per cent) were trying to cope with six or more health conditions. 

David Robinson, co-founder of Wildcat Law, said employers had a duty of care to their employees, but added that it made “business sense” to consider investing in insurance.

“Income protection plans available to businesses can not only cover the cost of wages, but also offer staff access to support services such as mental health resources to prevent them needing to be signed off in the first place,” said Robinson, adding that if these resources were part of a “wider support process, businesses and staff will benefit, especially during times of uncertainty”.