THE BLOG

Why Mental Health Matters to Me

25/08/2015 09:46 BST | Updated 24/08/2016 10:59 BST

Yesterday, Iain Duncan Smith set out the government's plans to improve support for people whose health has caused them to drop out of work. It was a renewed commitment to open up to everyone the security and sense of purpose that comes with having a job.

One group of particular concern to me are people with mental health conditions. One in six people in the UK have a common mental health condition and we have not, up to now, taken seriously enough the impact this can have on their employment prospects.

As a former small business owner, I have seen how employers can let down their disabled staff. I employed someone with a mental health condition who with only minor changes to the way we worked made an enormous contribution to my business. In time he was offered a promotion at another company. I was proud he was going on to bigger and better things.

Imagine my frustration then when I found out he left this new role after a short period of time. It transpired that he wasn't receiving the support he needed. What a waste of talent, simply because the new employer didn't have the confidence to discuss what small changes were needed. This experience is part of what makes me determined to get to a place where all businesses know what it takes to support people to flourish in work.

Companies need to understand that small, personalised changes can open up their recruitment to a diverse workforce as well as bring a raft of business benefits. We are supporting employers to do this through our #DisabilityConfident campaign. Since the campaign was launched two years ago, 351,000 more disabled people are now in work.

Not only are people with mental health conditions at risk of falling out of work if they are not properly supported, but poor mental health can also prevent people from successfully searching for work.

Almost a quarter of people claiming Jobseekers Allowance today have a mental health condition. For many, poor mental health will be the cause of their joblessness, for others it will be the effect. But regardless of which, these people need better support and we're going to do something about it.

That's why we're investing £40m to introduce a range of pilots to find out how best we can support people with mental health conditions in looking for work.

I want to bust some of the myths around this. I have heard it claimed that people will be forced into participating in these schemes. This is completely untrue. We have always been clear that participation in these pilots is and will be entirely voluntary.

Others have claimed we're "rebranding" unemployment as a psychological disorder. That's nonsense.

This is about equality; about opening up the chance to earn a living to people who have for too long been shut out of that opportunity.

We know that early access to therapies offers someone the ability to manage mental health conditions; so naturally I want that support available to anyone who wants it.

This support will not be right for every person or solve every problem. And we know that there will always be some people for whom work will never be possible. We remain committed to protecting those most vulnerable people in our society.

But this is about giving those who can work every possible tool to help them tailor their job hunting to what they need. It's is about giving control back to the person.

The days of writing off disabled people to a life on benefits because it's the "easy option" are over.

We know that the vast majority of people with mental health conditions want to succeed in work and we will give them all the support we can. I don't want to see any more potential needlessly wasted.