Flexible sick pay would help workers with mental health problems, says report

Sick leave and pay should be more flexible to help employees who need to take time off for mental health issues, according to a new report.

'Too ill to work, too broke not to' from the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute explores the dilemma faced by people who are too unwell to work, but unable to afford to take time off to recover.

Many employees benefit from some form of contractual sick pay, but if their illness is severe or their recovery protracted, these sickness benefits often run out -- leaving them reliant on the significantly reduced income of statutory sick pay (SSP).

Those who do not get contractual sick pay or who are self-employed see a swifter reduction in their income, moving suddenly from full pay to SSP or employment support allowance (ESA).

At present, workplace sickness absence tends to be viewed rigidly -- with the assumption that people are either well enough to work or they are not, the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute pointed out.

But while some individuals with mental health problems will need a period of full-time sickness absence, others may be well enough to do some work, perhaps with additional support or reduced hours.

The report calls for the UK government to increase the flexibility of statutory sick pay, by allowing people to combine wages and sickness benefit -- both as an alternative to full-time sickness absence and to enable a phased return to work.

"This would support individuals by reducing the financial devastation caused by sickness absence, while also benefiting employers by avoiding the costly resource and productivity implications of people trying to perform their normal roles and working hours while too unwell to do so," the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute explained.

"Given that a person who has been off work for six months or more has an 80% chance of being off work for five years -- and that 300,000 people with a long-term mental health problem lose their job each year -- a more flexible approach to sickness absence is much-needed. It could go a long way in breaking the cycle of people being too ill to work, but too broke not to."

Posted on November 7th 2018

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