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The Government’s Work Programme is making people with mental problems more unwell and pushing them further away from work, a leading charity says.

Writing for Politics Home, Paul Farmer, CEO of the charity Mind, says Iain Duncan Smith’s flagship back-to-work scheme is “failing people with mental health issues”.

Mr Farmer says: “One of the reasons the Work Programme is having little success when it comes to people with mental health problems is that it does not provide tailored support to help people overcome barriers they face in finding and staying in work.

“What’s more, the pressure to take part in unhelpful or even inappropriate ‘work related activity’ is making many people more unwell.

“It’s all very well asking people to do things like CV writing courses, but if you’re facing crippling anxiety or suicidal thoughts, it’s not going to do much to help you move into work, especially under the threat of losing your income if you miss the appointment or arrive five minutes late.”

His comments come as new figures published today reveal that only 7.7% of new sickness benefit claimants who complete the Work Programme find work lasting at least three months.

This is higher than for June 2011, when just 3.9% of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claimants found work through the scheme, but considerably fewer than 26.6% for Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants between the age of 18 to 24.

The “failure” of the Work Programme, dubbed ‘workfare’ by opponents, is even more evident among long-term sickness benefit claimants, with just 3.9% finding work lasting three months or more.

Tom Pollard, Policy and Campaigns Manager at Mind, said: “Time and time again we’ve seen just how few people with mental health problems are successfully helped into jobs by the Work Programme, and these latest figures show that there’s been little improvement.

“This scheme is failing people with mental health problems because they aren’t given the right support.

“If you have a mental health problem, CV-writing workshops will not help you overcome crippling anxiety or suicidal thoughts, and the threat of losing your benefits if you don’t comply is highly likely to make you far more unwell, not more motivated.

“This flawed, punitive approach is backfiring, making thousands more unwell and pushing them further away from work.”

A staggering 83% of people surveyed by Mind said the Work Programme made their mental health worse, while 76% felt it had reduced the likelihood of them being able to move into employment in the future.

Mr Farmer said Mind supports “the Government’s aspiration to halve the disability employment gap”, but is calling for everyone with mental health problems to be made exempt from the Work Programme.

Tom Pallard added: “It’s high time the government faced up to the fact that their current approach just isn’t working for people with mental health problems and needs a fundamental rethink.

“Mind is calling on Employment Minister Priti Patel to radically overhaul the benefits system, to one with less focus on pressurising people and greater investment in tailored, personalised support.

“We want everyone with a mental health problem who is currently on the Work Programme taken off this scheme and offered support which acknowledge and address the challenges they face in getting and keeping a job.”