RESEARCH CONDUCTED FOR the Mental Health and Income Commission shows that typical income for people with common mental health conditions in England and Wales is £8,400 lower than for the rest of the population, leaving this group much more exposed to financial hardship.

The Commission’s final report warns that a significant cause of this ‘mental health income gap’ is the barriers to employment and job progression that people with mental health problems face – ranging from a lack of flexible working practices to discrimination in the workplace. New national polling published in the report shows that:

  • Two thirds (68 per cent) of people with mental health problems who have ever asked an employer for reasonable adjustments said their requests were either rejected (20 per cent) or only partly met (48 per cent).
  • One in five (19 per cent) people with mental health problems – equivalent to 3.7 million people across the UK – say they have suffered workplace discrimination due to their mental health (including being passed over for promotion or being made redundant).
  • As a result of these problems, many people with poor mental health have benefitted from the greater flexibility that employers have offered during lockdown – and are concerned about losing this when normal work practices resume.
  • More than four in 10 (43 per cent) people with mental health problems say they are worried about returning to their usual working arrangements after lockdown, amounting to 5 million people in total. In contrast, only 30 per cent of the wider workforce shares this concern.

The Commission recommends emergency measures that the UK Government should adopt to help people with mental health problems stay in work during the pandemic, as well as long term changes to tackle the systemic employment issues which have driven the ‘mental health income gap’:

  • Introduce a right to flexible working for all employees during the pandemic. Currently, employees have the right to request flexible working, but this can be easily rejected by employers. Requiring employers to offer flexible working practices during the pandemic would help more people with poor mental health to continue to work, and would increase income security.
  • Increase levels of Statutory Sick Pay and ensure more workers can access it. People with mental health problems are more likely to need time off work due to illness. But many struggle to get by with the current rate of SSP (£95.85 per week), while workers who earn less than £120 per week are ineligible for it. Increasing the generosity of SSP  and making it a basic employment right for all workers would help prevent existing income inequalities from growing during the pandemic.
  • Require employers to report on the mental health pay gap and on flexible working requests. The government should make it mandatory for companies with over 250 staff to report on the pay gap between employees with mental health problems and others, and the number of flexible working requests denied and granted. This would help expose inequalities in the workplace and discriminatory work practices.

Commenting on the findings of the report, Helen Undy, Chief Executive of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, said: “If the government is serious about ‘building back better’, it must address the employment barriers that are leaving many people with mental health problems dreading a return to normal after the pandemic. The way the country has adapted to home working and other flexible arrangements has proved that we can do it. For millions of people with poor mental health, the idea of going back to business-as-usual and losing this flexibility is a huge worry.

“We’re calling for urgent action from government to ensure that people with mental health problems are not left behind in the aftermath of the pandemic. That means expanding access to flexible working, improving support for those both in and out of employment, and exposing employers who are failing to do their bit.

“People with mental health problems have been more likely to be on low incomes for decades. The pandemic has not only exposed this inequality, it looks set to make it worse. We’re calling for urgent action from the government to put this right.”

* Read Mind The Income Gap: How work and social security shape the incomes of people with mental health problems here.

* Source: Money and Mental Health Policy Institute