Billy Watson: Mental health issues need more than a capability review

With "fairness" as its watchword, the UK government has made reform of the welfare system its priority, and claims that the new system will "make work pay" and "combat worklessness". We expect these reforms to have a significant impact on many people with mental health problems: 45 per cent of people in Scotland receiving incapacity benefit do so because of a mental health problem.

When a person is too ill to work, they have a right to financial support, but meaningful work can be beneficial for people with mental health problems, providing independence and assisting their recovery.

However, returning to work, particularly after a long period of unemployment, can be challenging and stressful. Rebuilding confidence and learning new skills takes time.

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Incapacity benefits are currently being replaced with Employment & Support Allowance (ESA), with a migration process lasting three years due to start soon for all 233,000 recipients in Scotland. ESA is designed to support people who are unable to work because of their health and to assist those preparing to return to work.

The Work Capability Assessment (WCA) assesses a claimant's fitness for work by scoring their physical and mental capabilities. This week, the Harrington Review, tasked with judging the efficacy of the WCA, reported that it is impersonal, mechanistic and fails to recognise complex or fluctuating mental health conditions.

We agree with the review's recommendations for greater empathy, transparency and recognition of mental health problems. However, in the time it takes for these recommendations to be implemented, more people with mental health problems will be found fit for work when they are not and will be subjected to the anxiety and indignity of a flawed system.

I will make these points to Lord Freud, the minister for welfare reform, when I meet him in Edinburgh today, and we will continue to campaign for fairness on issues of mental health, employment and welfare.

• Billy Watson is chief executive of the Scottish Association for Mental Health.