Published: 17/02/2005, Volume II5, No. 5943 Page 10

People with mental health problems should be helped into employment through back-to-work schemes tailored to their needs, a report says Mental Health in the Mainstream, by think tank the Institute for Public Policy Research and mental health charity Rethink, says a national job brokerage scheme would provide tailored help.

This would include access to talking therapies and training in being ready for work, as many people with long-term mental health problems are lacking in life skills.

But it warns that support for employment for those with mental health problems has yet to be tested on a large scale, while stigma and discrimination remain.

The report also suggests that incapacity benefit should be replaced with an earnings replacement allowance that provides a basic income instead of being a payment for health problems or disability.

Report author Jennifer Rankin of IPPR's health and social care team said that people with mental health problems who went back into work feared that they would not be able to access benefits again if they relapsed and had to stop.

The report says: 'The allowance would need to be more responsive to the particular issues around mental health than incapacity benefit has been. It would need to take better account of the fluctuating nature of mental health problems.

In this more flexible model the benefit system would be more like steps that people can go up and down than a 'cliff' where people can have trouble returning to benefits.' Ms Rankin said she welcomed the recent announcement by work and pensions secretary Alan Johnson that incapacity benefit is to be redesigned. It is likely to be split between those who will always be too sick to work and those who can recover from their illness and be helped into employment.

She said: 'High numbers of people who want to be able to work should be in the second category.

But we do not know yet how it will be structured to ensure that people will get enough support.' A Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health spokesman said the proposed scheme would have to be carefully run to ensure that people with mental health problems did not get put in the wrong 'category'.

He said: 'How do you classify someone with varying levels of depression or schizophrenia? But it is a good step forward.'

www. ippr. org. uk