Mental Health First Aid in the Workplace

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:54 pm on 17th January 2019.

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Photo of Norman Lamb Norman Lamb Chair, Science and Technology Committee (Commons) 1:54 pm, 17th January 2019

I totally agree. My plea to the Government is that, as we hopefully commit to spending more on mental health, we spend at least part of that on preventive measures. If we can get someone into work, it makes a whole difference to their lives. The evidence shows that many people who are helped back into work are then able to stay in work; reducing the burden on the NHS and the benefits system, but giving people dignity and self-respect.

Another initiative we are undertaking in the west midlands is the wellbeing premium. It was my idea, which again is being supported by the Government and I am grateful to them. The idea, which we are trialling over a year, is to give an incentive to employers to improve the way in which they support people in work by training their line managers—the most critical thing one can do—and see whether we can reduce the number of people who end up on sickness absence. The idea is to give them a temporary incentive for one or two years, for example by a reduction in the business rate or a reduction in national insurance payments. If by that we can reduce sickness absence, the number of people falling out of work through ill health and the problem of presenteeism, everyone benefits. It will be interesting to see how that succeeds.

In the west midlands, we are also pursuing the thrive at work commitment, which is trying to build a social movement of companies that all sign up to a commitment to up the level of support that they provide people, changing the culture in workplaces. A toolkit is provided to companies, and that could make a substantial difference across the region.

The action plan also has a commitment to train up 500,000 people across the west midlands in mental health first aid. That is a totally different approach to what we have been used to, which is an NHS very much focused on sickness and providing treatment for sickness after what is often a very long wait, as the hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View pointed out. Instead, the whole focus of the system should be on prevention. If we do that, we can achieve a real breakthrough.

To conclude, let us amend the legislation and get mental health first aid to become the standard in every workplace. Critically, that should be part of a much wider programme that is focused on prevention and on building good healthy workplaces with the right culture, where people have respect, are engaged in the work they are doing and are treated with dignity. With that commitment is a dedication to the work they are doing and a commitment to raise awareness of mental ill health among all staff and to train managers properly. Through a combination of regulation and incentives, we can make a real difference for people.