Mental health awareness 'may have gone too far', says Mel Stride, with 150,000 to be helped into work

21 March 2024, 07:18

Mental health culture 'may have gone too far', Mel Stride says
Mental health culture 'may have gone too far', Mel Stride says. Picture: Alamy

By Kit Heren

The Work and Pensions Secretary has said that Britain's "open approach to mental health" may have gone too far.

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Mel Stride said that work was good for people's mental health, as he unveiled plans to get 150,000 people signed off work with mild conditions back into a job.

Millions of working age people in the UK are out of work due to sickness, with the number increasing markedly since the pandemic.

Many of these people say they are suffering with mental health problems that make them unable to work.

The number of people out of work due to poor mental health is a problem for the economy and for many of the claimants themselves, Mr Stride said.

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Mel Stride
Mel Stride. Picture: Alamy

He told the Telegraph that "as a culture, we seem to have forgotten that work is good for mental health”

He added: "While I’m grateful for today’s much more open approach to mental health, there is a danger that this has gone too far.

“There is a real risk now that we are labelling the normal ups and downs of human life as medical conditions which then actually serve to hold people back and, ultimately, drive up the benefit bill.”

He added that it was good that attitudes to mental health had changed, which meant that people who had previously "suffered in silence" were now getting treatment.

Many people are out of work due to mental health issues
Many people are out of work due to mental health issues. Picture: Alamy

But he said things may have swung too far the other way, and people may be "convincing themselves they have some kind of serious mental health condition as opposed to the normal anxieties of life

He added: “If they go to the doctor and say ‘I’m feeling rather down and bluesy’, the doctor will give them on average about seven minutes and then, on 94 per cent of occasions, they will be signed off as not fit to carry out any work whatsoever,” he added.

Mr Stride acknowledged the topic was sensitive but said it must not become a “no go area” and was “something we need to start having an honest, grown-up debate about”.

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“It is too important for people and their futures, too important for the way that welfare works and too important for the economy to just ignore."

Mr Stride said the topic was sensitive but maintained that it was "something we need to start having an honest, grown-up debate about”.

“It is too important for people and their futures, too important for the way that welfare works and too important for the economy to just ignore."

The welfare payments bill is set to rise to £100 billion this year, having already risen substantially since the pandemic.

Some 1.5 million people who applied for incapacity benefits between 2019 and 2023 were given the highest level of payout, and are under no obligation to seek a job. Mental health was the most common reason given.

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This is much higher than the government had anticipated when the category was brought in in 2011, and Mr Stride wants to reduce the number.

Under the new rules, only those with very severe mental health conditions can be given the highest level of incapacity benefits and told they need not look for a job.

He is also going to bring in a requirement for people with milder conditions, such as anxiety, to get jobs where they can work from home.

The government is also putting an extra £2.3 billion a year into mental health services.

Mr Stride told LBC's Andrew Marr in November: "If you need support from the state because you cannot work and you have significant disabilities or long-term sick issues, we should be there as a compassionate society to do that.

"If you can work, and you basically say you’re not going to, then the taxpayer in fairness says…benefits shouldn’t be there forever if they’re not required."

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