Mental Illness: Job Security and Inequality - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:09 pm on 4th July 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Redfern Baroness Redfern Conservative 2:09 pm, 4th July 2019

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bird, for introducing this debate and for the opportunity to take part in it. This is, in many cases, a tricky subject because mental ill health is unfortunately still poorly understood by some. Nevertheless, I welcome the emerging change of attitude towards it and the Government’s commitment to provide extra funding of £2 billion in real terms.

Attitudes in society are slowly improving but have to be set against the huge impact that mental ill health has on the people who suffer from it. It frequently leads to a downward spiral of unemployment, poverty and family breakdown, as well as deteriorating health and well-being. It is silently endured. People feel marginalised and in some cases, I am afraid, excluded from society.

As we know, poor mental health is a leading cause of worklessness and sickness absence, but I want to pay particular attention to those in the criminal justice system, to which the noble Lord, Lord Bird, alluded earlier. People in prison typically have poorer health and suffer from mental impairment. The attempt to cope is particularly prevalent among men, who keep their emotions under wraps. They try to balance social issues such as poverty and indebtedness. Often, they are unemployed or have been made redundant, or they have never been employed. Many are poorly educated and homeless or their homes have been repossessed, and many come from deprived backgrounds. What challenges to cope with.

Prisoners with mental health issues who slip through the net and whose needs are not adequately addressed might be more likely to reoffend. We know that two-thirds of the country is now covered by criminal justice liaison and diversion services, whereas three years ago only one-quarter was covered. The probation service plays a crucial part in delivering those services, with much more emphasis on face-to-face interviews, getting to know a person well and not laying bare another statistic. We need to ensure that all other organisations are part of that delivery mechanism, particularly local authorities, which have renewed responsibilities for public health.

When looking for a new beginning with a new job or perhaps a return to work, some people unfortunately encounter workplaces that refuse to make any allowances. Instances of that happening will reduce with new initiatives to support the workplace. Research has shown that employers who embrace a duty of care and invest in health initiatives to support the health and well-being of their employees have the potential to see a significant return on their investment. Mental health support in the workplace can save UK businesses up to £8 billion per year. It has also been shown that getting people into work can help reduce a huge economic burden for them and their families.

Therefore, we must give a big push and mark the first opportunity that people have on leaving prison to hold an ambition, possibly for the first time. We must make it really pay for them, and make it happen not only for them but for their families. They simply cannot do it alone. They need all-out support for their mental well-being. Getting that precious job can and should be a real step change, and it is about providing support and helping them to keep that job.

In conclusion, we have to broaden the debate. I look forward to a development pathway to improve mental health provision across all criminal justice settings, with support programmes such as Access to Work, backed up by the full integration of all agencies, so that we have a transparent and effective monitoring procedure and a review of its effectiveness.