Research shows small and medium businesses are particularly resistant to employing people who have a mental illness

Government efforts to move people off benefit and into work could fail unless employers get more support to recruit and retain staff who have mental health problems, latest research reveals.

A poll for the Disability Rights Commission of small and medium businesses found that two thirds have no procedures in place for managing staff with mental health problems.

The survey of 850 businesses also indicates that managers are more reluctant to provide workplace adjustments for new staff who have a mental health condition than they are for existing employees.

The Disability Rights Commission said the findings are a wake-up call for the government, which aims to get one million incapacity benefit claimants – 40% of whom have a mental health condition Ð back to work.

Bert Massie, Disability Rights Commission chairman, said: “We need to recognise that mental ill health is now operating as a badge of exclusion from the labour market in the same way that race and gender once did.

“If the government’s welfare reform programme is to succeed it needs to tackle this lack of confidence among employers about recruiting staff who have a mental health condition.

“If employers had better advice and support they would have less fear about employing someone with a mental health problem Ð and employees in turn would be less fearful of disclosing their condition.”

The CBI backed the call for more employer support. Susan Anderson, its director of HR policy, said: “Employers accept that they have a key role to play in supporting staff with mental health issues. But many firms, particularly the smaller ones, need more guidance and advice about how they can help staff.

“The government can also make a great difference outside of the workplace, for example by helping to improve the skills of those with mental ill health.”

The poll found that small and medium-sized employers want more help to manage staff who develop a mental health problem. Most (81%) said that a free employers’ helpline to advise about managing staff with a mental health problem would be helpful, and more than two thirds (68%) said free one-to-one counselling for an employee would help.

The Disability Rights Commission also called for more and better training for JobCentrePlus staff, campaigns for employers to share good practice and better access for people with mental health problems to training.

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