More than one million people on sickness benefits with mental and behavioural disorders

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New analysis by Legal & General, using Department for Work and Pensions statistics, has shown that over one million people are claiming benefits because of mental and behavioural disorders, an increase of more than 25% from ten years earlier.

Employment & Support Allowance (ESA) and Incapacity Benefit (IB) are the government’s sickness benefits that are paid to people who cannot work because of ill-health or disability.

In February 2012, 1,031,700 people were claiming ESA or Incapacity Benefit because of mental and behavioural disorders, an increase of over 200,000 since February 2002 when there were 824,110 claimants. Of this number:

  • 158,370 claimants are aged between 45-49, an increase of over 50% compared to 2002.
  • 82,790 claimants are aged between 18-24, an increase of nearly 30% since 2002.
  • The largest percentage increase (62.65%) was in the +60 age-group.

The analysis has been conducted at a time when the government is reviewing the way it handles absence in the workplace. ‘Health at work- an independent review of sickness absence’, by Dame Carol Black and David Frost CBE, was presented to Parliament in November 2011.

Commenting on the analysis, Diane Buckley, Managing Director of Legal & General Group Protection, said:

“The fact that there are more than one million individuals claiming sickness benefits for mental and behavioural disorders is concerning. These figures show how important it is for employers to provide good quality support for people in the workplace.

“Our own internal data has shown that the largest cause of Group Income Protection claims across the financial services sector is for mental health problems. Increasing pressures in the workplace such as changes in regulation and trying to deliver more for less, are all taking their toll.”

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  1. As a recently retired senior HR professional and having been a trustee of a mental health charity for many years I can only welcome the growing awareness of the need for employers to better understand and deal with mental health issues affecting their employees.

    Of course there is a broader social dimension around the stigma of mental illness which sensitises debate around this issue. In principle I believe that good employer policies will permit dealing with absence owing to mental health problems using the same framework as due to physical illness or impairment.

    Of course there is the issue of the ‘stress card’ which permits those employees who are so minded, perhaps with some support on occasions from unquestioning and overworked GPs, to muddy the water. But in reality employees have never needed to hind behind a ‘mental health’ problem to excuse themselves from work if they wish to do so. To be seen to be dealing properly with genuine mental health issues which are statistically known to impact 25% of the population each year would be in the interests of both employers and genuinely ill employees.

    What would help is better information to permit managers to understand and deal with genuine mental health issues and to not be afraid to treat people with mental health problems appropriately and fairly whilst dealing firmly with the ‘game-players’. Mental health charities, like mine, would be more than willing to support employers in appropriate education exercises if they are prepared to cover the charity’s costs to do so.

    The stigma of mental health is a problem, perhaps because people associate it with serious disorders which can give rise to events which are life threatening or emotionally disturbing to others, but more crime including crimes of violence is committed by people who are legally and medically regarded as sane.

    More common mental health disorders which may not be normally recognised as such are eating disorders, self harming and clinical depression of course. Most mental health disorders can be recovered from with appropriate support. Rehabilitation into work plays an important part in this.

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