Sick pay and leave needs to become more flexible to better support individuals with mental health problems, says the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute.
The independent charity has made calls to government to increase the flexibility of Statutory Sick Pay, following the release of its new report “Too ill to work, too broke not to”.
The report explores the predicament of individuals with mental health problems who are experiencing “devastating financial consequences of sickness absence”.
The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute said when people are too unwell to work, state or employer sickness benefits provide a financial safety net.
It added that for people who do not benefit from contractual sick pay (CSP) or are self-employed, their journey to financial difficulty is swifter, moving suddenly from full pay to statutory sick pay (SSP) or employment support allowance (ESA).
The charity said mental health problems can impact a person’s ability to think clearly, retain information, plan and problem solve – all skills required for financial management and budgeting. As a result, people are faced with managing these stark income reductions when they are least able to do so.
Therefore, the institute is calling for government to increase the flexibility of SSP by allowing people to combine wages and sickness benefit – both as an alternative to full-time sickness absence and as a supportive mechanism following periods of full-time absence.
It said 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 said: “Given that a person who has been off work for six months or more has an 80 percent 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.”