The government is to treble the number of employment advisers in GP surgeries and pilot an £8m advice and support service for smaller businesses, as part of a renewed effort to help people with stress and other mental health conditions back into work.
The joint announcement by work and pensions secretary Peter Hain and health secretary Alan Johnson came as Conservative leader David Cameron also unveiled radical proposals to get people with long-term sickness back into work.
The government’s strategy is focused on a three-fold expansion of the Pathways to Work scheme – now being rolled out nationally – where Jobcentre Plus employment advisers are located in GP surgeries, with a particular focus on supporting people with mental health conditions.
The scheme will, wherever possible, be linked to the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies programme, a network of centres being established across the country to provide cognitive behavioural therapy.
The development of “fit notes” to replace sicknotes, or medical certificates with an emphasis on “capacity” rather than “incapacity”, as ministers put it, is another strand.
A national strategy on the issue is expected to be launched at a conference in the next few weeks, with the programme getting under way in the second half of the year.
Cameron, meanwhile, has proposed that all 2.6 million incapacity benefit claimants should undergo new assessments to gauge their fitness to work. Those deemed fit to work will have their benefits cut by £20 a week, with the aim of getting 200,000 people off benefits and into work, he said.