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"Council loses £1m sickness case" - Not HIV specific but important from a mental health and employment viewpoint.

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John's picture
Joined: 09/03/2008
kevin's picture
Joined: 09/03/2009

Cheltenham borough council's unprecedented £1m claim against Christine Laird<, described by some as "vindictive" and by John Rawson, the council's cabinet member responsible for finances, as "gormless", leaves both sides counting the cost. The council must now pay £750,000 of public money to lawyers, and Laird was left devastated as her husband read her statement in front of the high court.

Laird's health has been "broken" by a long legal battle and she still has a substantial bill for 35% of her costs. So desperate had Laird become, she had nearly taken her own life during the case.

Christine Laird was telling the truth but many of us have had to lie. She didn't have a disability within the meaning of the act and the pre-employment questionnaire was badly drafted. But Cheltenham chief executive Andrew North was unrepentant after the judgment saying: "Had the council known Mrs Laird's medical history it would most probably not have employed her ..."

North is also probably telling the truth: Laird's application would have ended up in the bin, the discrimination would never have been recorded and the case would never have come to light. Is it really good enough to leave vulnerable people to fight speculative legal battles to prove by inference that the recruitment process has been unfair?

Statistics from the Social Exclusion Task Force< reveal the extent of the problem. Eight out of 10 employers said that applicants should disclose any condition prior to being hired, yet fewer than four in 10 employers said they would consider recruiting someone with a history of mental health< problems.

An employer takes a risk when hiring anyone – the severity and duration of illness is not a reliable predictor of whether someone will be good at their job. Employers must be forbidden from relying upon this prejudice. The time has come to free people with mental illness from the fear of discrimination. We are not unfit for work because of a history of mental illness, any more than someone who has a family history of heart attacks.

Neither should employers be forced to take on someone who is genuinely unable to do the job, even with adjustments required by law. But banning questionnaires until after an offer of employment has been made will make it clearer if there has been direct discrimination.

In the single equality< bill, Harriet Harman has a perfect opportunity to make sure people with mental illness are fully protected. Of all groups in society, mental illness has the greatest stigma attached to it and the highest unemployment rate. Relations between employers and employees should be based on openness, fairness and flexibility, but until then, many people will feel they have to hide their illness.<

anonymous (not verified)
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People with mental health problems will get extra support to help manage their condition so they can remain in the workplace, the government has said.

The move comes after pilot schemes that were said to be 90% successful in helping people with fluctuating mental health conditions retain their jobs.

The government-led pilots were run with mental health charity Mind.

Jim Knight, Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform, said people would get "the right help early on".

Following the success of the trials, the government is now looking to extend the support, with an expectation that they will be rolled out nationally.

Mr Knight said: "I know disabled people dearly want to stay in work and their employers want to do everything they can to keep good staff.

"Our plans to offer the right help early on can end the downward spiral of people falling out of work into sick leave, and onto benefits.

"We are all agreed that helping people stay in work is good news for them, their bosses and for the taxpayer."

Further measures

The government has also announced its first ever National Strategy for Mental Health and Employment, for publication in the autumn.

This will include expectations of employers, healthcare professionals, organisations and individuals in improving well-being in the workplace.

Also being introduced is a network of dedicated mental health experts across Jobcentre Plus, who will work with colleagues in the health system to coordinate support for people with mental health conditions.

And a consultation on Right to Control will give disabled people, including those with mental health problems, greater choice and control over how public money is spent to meet their individual needs and ambitions.

The government is also increasing the Access to Work fund, from £69m to £138m over the next five years.

This is intended to provided practical advice and financial support to disabled people and their employers, to help them overcome work-related obstacles resulting from disability.<


anonymous (not verified)
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Author: Jennifer Rankin
Price: £9.95
Publication Date: 13 June 2005

“This is an important and useful report . . . Everyone should read it, and then think hard about whether the system we have in place is really helping those who are sick and vulnerable, and often very frightened.”
Rabbi Julia Neuberger

“Mental Health in the Mainstream outlines a 'no nonsense' vision of the future where mental health and ill health are variously respected and accepted . . . A vital account.”
Emma Harding, Expert by Experience and Senior Employment Specialist in the NHS

Poor mental health is one of the biggest social issues in the UK. At any one time, one in six people experience mental health problems. This has high costs for individuals and their families and a significant impact on national prosperity and wellbeing. Poor mental health is inextricably linked to poverty and exclusion, worklessness, crime, chronic illness, low educational attainment, antisocial behaviour and lack of social cohesion.

This report sets out why mental health should be a mainstream priority for policymakers. It puts forward a vision of what our response to mental health could look like in 2025 and focuses on how the health system can be improved to offer better support for people with mental health problems and promote the mental health of the whole community.

view full publication< (PDF file<