Furlough brings no greater risk of mental ill-health

24 Sep 2020 By Eleanor Whitehouse

Study finds those on leave during the pandemic were just as likely to experience psychological wellbeing issues as those working full time

The risk of developing mental health problems is identical for those who are furloughed to people in full-time work, research from the University of Cambridge has revealed. 

A team of sociologists found that while furloughing workers or reducing hours helped to stem the expected influx of coronavirus-related mental health problems, the risk of developing mental health issues was the same regardless of working status. 

The research, which covered 7,149 people from across the UK, revealed that, as of May, 28 per cent of full-time employees returned scores suggesting they might be at risk of poor mental health, as did 27 per cent of those on furlough and 30 per cent of those who had their hours reduced from full to part time. More than half (58 per cent) of those who lost all work during the crisis were at risk. 

The paper called on the government to encourage employers to “cut hours not people” when the furlough scheme comes to an end this month to reduce the impact on mental health.  “The lesson for government strategy is clear,” said researcher Professor Brendan Burchell. “Keep everyone in some paid work where possible, with population health as the priority. Even one day a week will keep more of us psychologically healthier in these volatile times.” 

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