It has been revealed that in 2015 (to 31st January 2016), 112, 258 days in total were lost to mental illness such at depression, by worker at the Department for Work and Pensions, which means that more sick days are lost to mental illness than any other kind within the company. Absences for mental health reasons amounted to 24% of overall absences, and has been the same figure for the past three years.
Claims have suggested that the reason for this is due to cruel Government policies that the DWP workers must inflict upon those in need, and the high pressure they feel at work. Mark Serwotka, the general secretary of the PCS trade union, represents civil servants at the department and has noticed the effects the Government’s ‘cruel’ policies are having on workers; ‘this highlights the huge pressures on staff who are forced to carry out the Government’s cruel policies that have turned job centres from places of help and support into ones of conflict and suspicion. DWP staff know that punishing and vilifying the sick, disabled and unemployed people is not morally wrong, it is counterproductive.’ There is also a significant difference in mental health absences between the private and public sectors, with mental health issues being named as a major absence causer by 41% of public sector organisations, in comparison to just 34% of private services. Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the CIPD explains this by saying: ‘another probable factor behind higher levels of stress-related absence in the public sector is that many public sector workers are in public -facing roles where they often have to deal with people in difficult or emotionally-charged circumstances, for example social workers, teachers or police officers’.
The majority of workers for the public sector are based in the Job centre itself, and so the likelihood of them dealing with a vulnerable member of the public is high. By adhering to government policies and denying someone who is so vulnerable their benefits, it could have a great emotional impact. DWP workers were given a six point plan last summer on how to deal with anyone that appears suicidal after refused benefit, showing the extent of the situation. Despite pressures, a spokesperson for the DWP has said: ‘the wellbeing of our staff is very important to us and the number of sick days taken has fallen significantly. Mental health problems are complex, and to try to link them to one thing – such as welfare reform – is misleading and irresponsible.’
With welfare cuts being at the centre of the political agenda, there is no surprise that DWP workers are feeling the pressure. An example would be the introduction of PIP in 2012, that aims at assessing disabled people, and ultimately cutting back on the amount that can receive benefit. Although all cuts announced by George Osbourne were cancelled when he resigned, PIP is still going strong. The scrapping of the Disability Living Allowance is also another factor that saw tensions rising within the DWP, and could have a knock on effect, to the mental state of its workers.