Mind the gap: the impact of mental health problems on employment
While the employment rate of disabled people has increased in the last few years there is still a large disability employment gap between disabled and non-disabled people. The 2015 government had a commitment to halve this gap by 2020. This is a welcome pledge but previous TUC research indicates that based on current trends it is unlikely to be met.
New TUC research shows that mental health problems are a barrier to getting into work or staying in work because adequate adjustments are not being made in the workplace. Significant government and employer action is therefore needed to address the employment gap between disabled and non-disabled people.
Our research examines Labour Force Statistics (LFS). We found a large gap in the employment rate of people defined as disabled under the Equality Act (EA) compared with non-disabled people in work. The latest available figures show that in the fourth quarter (Q4) of 2016 the employment rate for disabled people was still only 50 per cent, with just under 3.5 million people in employment. The employment rate for non-disabled people in Q4 2016 was significantly higher at 80.4 per cent. Further detail on this analysis and the statistics below is in the TUC report Mental Health and Employment.
Disabled people with long term health problems
Analysis of LFS data on the employment rates of disabled people with long term depression and anxiety, and mental illness and phobias found:
- Only 1 in 4 (26.2%) people with a mental illness or phobias lasting or expected to last more than a year are in work.
- Less than half (45.5%) of people with depression and anxiety lasting 12 months or more are working.
Figure 1 also shows that people with hidden mental health problems are less likely to be employed than people with physical long term conditions. 66 per cent of people with hearing difficulties were in work and 56.1% of people with back or neck problems were employed.
Figure 1 Employment rate of EA disabled people in Q4 2016
Mental health problems
Figure 2 shows in more detail how the employment rates of disabled people with long term mental health problems have increased since 2013.While this is welcome news, they are still at very low levels, especially for people with mental illness and phobias.
The employment rate of people with long term depression and anxiety increased from 38.2 per cent in 2013 to 45.5 per cent in 2016. The average annual increase in the employment rate from Q4 2013 to Q4 2016 was 2.43 per cent percentage points.
While the latest employment rate of disabled people with long term mental illness or phobias was only 26.2 per cent in 2016, this has risen from 17.2 per cent in 2013, a greater increase than that for people with long term depression and anxiety. The employment rate of disabled people with long term mental illness or phobias rose between Q4 2013 and Q4 2016 by an average of 3 percentage points per year.
Figure 2 Economic activity of EA disabled people with long term mental health problems Q4 2013 to Q4 2016
Increasing the employment rate of disabled people
The employment rate for disabled people – and specifically those with long term mental health problems – has slowly increased in the last few years. In Q4 2016 the disability employment gap for all disabled people aged 16 to 64 in Great Britain was 65.2 per cent.
Using this as the point to assess progress, the TUC estimates that on the current rate of increase it will take until 2025 to half the disability employment gap for people with long term depression and anxiety and until 2019 for disabled people with mental illness and phobias. Therefore the current government’s 2015 manifesto commitment to “halve the disability employment gap” by 2020 will not be met.
Addressing the employment gap
These figures indicate the low employment rates of people with depression and anxiety and particularly for people with mental illness and phobias. But the employment rates have been steadily increasing which is positive.
However, the low numbers in employment indicate that legally required reasonable adjustments in the workplace to enable people with mental health problems to work are not being made or are ineffective. It could also be because people are not getting the support they need to get a job or stay in work if they develop mental health problems.
Therefore action is needed by both employers and government to address the barriers disabled people with mental health problems experience so that the economy is not missing out on the skills and talents of these people.The two categories of ‘depression and anxiety’ and ‘mental illness and phobias’ are from the LFS. The full wording of the two categories is ‘depression, bad nerves and anxiety’ and ‘mental illness, or suffer from phobia, panics or other mental disorders’. However, wherever possible the TUC’s preference is to use the social model of disability. See the TUC report
 The two categories of ‘depression and anxiety’ and ‘mental illness and phobias’ are from the LFS. The full wording of the two categories is ‘depression, bad nerves and anxiety’ and ‘mental illness, or suffer from phobia, panics or other mental disorders’. However, wherever possible the TUC’s preference is to use the social model of disability. See the TUC report Mental Health and Employment for further explanation.
 TUC analysis of LFS data is specific to Great Britain rather than the UK because the Equality Act does not cover Northern Ireland. Due to the enactment of the Equality Act 2010 the definition of disability changed in the LFS from Q2 2013 therefore measures of disability pre and post Q2 2013 are not comparable. Hence figures used are from Q2 2013. TUC analysis is for 16-64 year olds.