Last week, the Prime Minister announced a new partnership with employers to improve mental health support in the workplace. She has appointed Lord Dennis Stevenson, the long-time campaigner for greater understanding and treatment of mental illness, and Paul Farmer CBE, CEO of Mind and Chair of the NHS Mental Health Taskforce, to drive work with business and the public sector to support mental health in the workplace.
These experts will lead a review on how best to ensure employees with mental health problems are enabled to thrive in the workplace and perform at their best. According to the Government’s website, this will involve practical help including promoting best practice and learning from trailblazer employers, as well as offering tools to organisations, whatever size they are, to assist with employee well-being and mental health. There will also be a remit to review recommendations around discrimination in the workplace on the grounds of mental health.
There has been a generally positive reaction from mental health campaigners though there has been scepticism in some quarters over whether the political rhetoric will translate to real improvements. In particular some press reports criticise the apparent absence of no new Treasury money for the plans with NHS Providers, representing mental health and other trusts, predicting the share of local NHS budgets devoted to mental health will fall next year.
A report has been published in December by Cardiff University in response to the Government’s consultation on the topic and considers the issues concerning the
Mental Health and the workplace gap in the levels of employment rates between disabled and non-disabled people. It has four key messages:
- While disability is difficult to measure, it is essential to do so. Addressing deficiencies in current measures is a pre-requisite to effectively monitoring trends in disability disadvantage at work and in evaluating the impact of policy and practice interventions
- Disabled people experience disadvantage relative to their non-disabled counterparts across a range of in-work outcomes. These include objective measures such as hourly earnings but also broader subjective measures relating to the experience of work.
- Even those who are most directly affected often fail to understand the extent of disability discrimination they have experienced. A sensible debate about the causes of, and remedies for, the disability gap requires better knowledge of the extent to which the seemingly individual problems disabled people encounter in the workplace are part of a wider and more systematic pattern of less favourable treatment.
- It is important that the voices of disabled people themselves, and their experiences, are represented in policy debates, research findings and new initiatives. For this to happen it is important that the views of disabled people and their lived experiences, are better heard.
Laws to safeguard employees with disabilities in the workplace are only one part of a complicated jigsaw of factors affecting those with disabilities, along with policies on welfare, Government and charitable initiatives, and societal perceptions. Despite the reported trends on the disadvantage experienced, last year, compensation was awarded by employment tribunals in just 72 disability discrimination cases across the UK, a figure which seems surprisingly low.
Part of the explanation is that far more claims end up being settled ‘out of court’ (around 40-50%). That said, the overall number of claims being brought is also low - fewer than 3,500 in 2015 / 2016. No doubt the introduction of employment tribunal fees has had a huge impact. It costs an employee £1,200 to have their case heard and the number of disability related claims last year was less than half that received in each of the four years before the fees’ introduction.
One implication of the small number of claims being decided in tribunal might be that there are fewer published outcomes which could potentially grab headlines and help to educate both employers and employees about their rights and responsibilities.
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The small print: This blog is for information purposes only and should not be construed in any way as providing legal advice.