The Autumn Statement

Blog Author: Chloe Hall

 

What has happened?

The Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, delivered his Autumn Statement to the House of Commons on 22nd November. Among other reforms, he set out plans to assist long term unemployed people back into work.

 

What is the economic background to this change of policy?

The Chancellor explained that presently there are one million job vacancies in the UK, and seven million working aged people (not including students) who are unemployed.

 

What specific reform has provoked concern from charities like Mind?

The Government is proposing to reform the Work Capability Assessment process. The new look scheme essentially means that jobseekers who receive unemployment related welfare benefits will be expected to find work within eighteen months or be required to undertake a work placement. The Chancellor argues that this will improve people’s job prospects and skills. Anyone who does not search for employment for six months will face the prospect of having benefits stopped. Jeremy Hunt partly justified the reform as reflecting ‘greater flexibility and availability of home working after the pandemic’.  

 

Why is this concerning?

Having a job should be a rewarding and fulfilling experience. Job satisfaction can certainly make a beneficial impact on self-esteem and mental wellbeing as a whole. Yet there are concerns about one size fits all approaches to policies which impact on people with disabilities and mental health issues.

First, data from the Office for National Statistics suggests that a majority of people who are unemployed because of long term illness cite personal anxiety, nervousness or depression. This means that alongside support programmes, it remains the case that fresh, preventative approaches are required to tackle mental health problems in society.

Second, given the Chancellor’s proposed incentives, some people will feel compelled to seek and accept work which is not appropriate for them. This situation would not prove beneficial to the economy, specific businesses, or the workforce. People finding themselves in that position are likely to feel unsettled and demotivated by their new working conditions. Absenteeism may well increase, which would prove frustrating and detrimental to both the newly appointed staff and their employers. In turn, people will feel disconcerted and unsure of the best way ahead, and inevitably some will see no alternative but to leave. Feeling valued is vitally important.  

Third, many unemployed people dealing with mental health issues may have become disillusioned with long NHS waiting lists and extended periods required even to see their GP. Some have lost faith in the healthcare system and are less likely to find professional solutions and desperately needed help for wellbeing problems. Feeling compelled to seek work is likely to seem daunting and may well compound conditions like anxiety and depression. Some will experience inappropriate pressure to find work, which will likely lead to panic and further self-doubt.  

Fourth, young people who fulfil an informal care role for an elderly relative or younger siblings will be forced to juggle already demanding roles with a new working responsibility. This dual commitment raises the prospect of burnout among young people, which would prove disastrous to their mental health and motivation.

Fifth, the Chancellor’s reference to homeworking needs an important caveat. While there are undoubted benefits to working from home, it is vital that employers remain flexible and consider the best interests of their employees as individuals.

Sixth, there is likely to be an overwhelming rise in the number of people turning to mental health service providers and charities.

 

What may be the best way forwards?

The Autumn Statement places emphasis on unemployment and welfare conditions. In other words, benefits are not guaranteed and those receiving them must meet specified terms. Academics from King’s College London continue to emphasise the need for more holistic approaches to mental health problems in society: ‘Individuals need personalised, tailored and flexible support, based on a long term and consistent relationship of trust and support with a skilled and empathetic keyworker, which can help them overcome physical, psychological, financial and skills-related barriers and [so potentially] enter the workforce’. As Dr Annie Irvine explains, ‘…effective employment support takes time and trust. Mandatory work programmes tied to conditionality and sanctions fuel fear, anxiety and mistrust, which are major obstacles to engagement and positive progress’.

In conclusion, it is likely that levying conditions like those set out in the Autumn Statement will prove counterproductive. Ironically, conditions intended to encourage people back to work may drive them further away from long term, fulfilling employment, may exacerbate ongoing mental health problems, risk worse hardship, promote fewer prospects and nurture fewer reasons to feel optimism about themselves and their future. Given that mental health issues often stem from poverty, broken relationships, past trauma, and domestic violence, these issues remain a vital focus for central government and local communities. The collective responsibility of addressing them head on will help to improve many people’s mental health and help to ensure that all members of the UK’s workforce are immeasurably better off.  

 

Signposting

Mind provides several sources of support for people whether by phone, email, or in person. Local Minds offer face-to-face services across England and Wales. These services include talking therapies, peer support and advocacy. And Side by Side is our supportive online community for anyone experiencing a mental health problem. Further advice and information is available here.

HFEL Mind’s blog offers advice on a variety of mental health issues. Sometimes just getting some extra information can prove to be a positive first step.

Our mental health services directory, Wellbeing West London, can help you find mental health services near you.

Our Safe Space service may also be able to help. We provide an alternative to A&E for people experiencing a mental health crisis, and can give advice, support, or just listen.

The NHS discusses the positive impact of mindfulness here.

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Posted on: 7th December 2023

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