Mental illness costs the UK economy £70 billion each year, claims OECD

DepressionAccording to a new report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), issues related to mental health cost the UK around £70bn every year in lost productivity, benefit payments and spending on healthcare. The OECD’s Mental Health and Work report is an international initiative which has already produced reports over the last year exploring related issues in Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and now the UK. Forthcoming reports are due later this year for Australia, Austria and the Netherlands. The new UK report calls for employers to adopt better policies and practices to help people cope with mental health issues.

The report estimates that as many as one million Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claimants, and an equivalent number of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) and related benefits have a mental disorder that is hampering their efforts to find or return to work. The report claims that active employment can be beneficial in helping people recover from or cope with mental illness.

The report also found that up to 370,000 Britons start claiming disability benefit every year, which is the highest rate in the developed world and twice the OECD average, with the main cause of claims identified as mental illness which affects around 40 percent of all claimants.

Earlier this week the UK Government unveiled its new initiative aimed at getting people back to work more quickly following absence due to illness. The Health and Work service is intended to help employers better manage sickness absence among their workforce and cutting levels of absenteeism – already low compared to comparable economies – by between 20 and 40 percent.

The OECD report claims that people with a mental illness continue to fare badly compared to their counterparts without such illness: their unemployment rate is more than double the overall rate; and the risk of falling below the poverty threshold is almost double the overall risk.  Indeed, the risk of poverty among people with mental health problems is the highest in a comparison of ten OECD countries including seven other European countries, Australia and the US.

It also suggests that the majority of benefit claimants with mental health problems need a combination of health and employment interventions to improve their chances of finding a suitable job. The health sector has increased services, so that access to common mental health treatments is much better than it was five years ago, but waiting lists are still too long in some parts of the country. Positive changes are also taking place to inform general practitioners about common mental disorders and return-to-work issues, but more systematic action in dealing with workplace matters is needed through a revised training curriculum.

 The OECD recommends that the UK authorities:

  • Ensure that the new Health and Work Service, announced to start in 2014, is implemented quickly and universally, with a strong focus on mental health and those still in work and with much stronger involvement of employers.
  • Increase the attention to mental health and its impact on employability and work capacity in all parts of the welfare system.
  • Increase resources and refine financial incentives for employment service providers to ensure better employment outcomes for customers with mental health problems.
  • Build on recently improved integration of health and employment services to make sure that integrated health and employment interventions for those with mental health issues are widely available.
  • Further expand access to psychological therapies for those with a common mental disorder.