Labor will “put health and well-being” at the heart of its employment strategy by bringing in professional advisers into health services, including addiction clinics, rehabilitation centers and primary care, the party said.
In an interview with The Guardian, jonathan ashworththe secretary for shadow work and pensions, said the strategy would help people who had been “discharged” to access work.
The party would also guarantee those with long-term health conditions who moved into employment that they would not have to face a grueling benefits reassessment if they were to leave the workplace. Ashworth said the fear of reassessment was discouraging people from applying for jobs in the first place.
The former shadow health secretary said there was a particular push to help young people to work who suffered from anxiety, depression and stress. “I think there is an urgency around young people,” he said.
“If young people are not in education or training, and don’t feel they can make a contribution because of mental health issues, we risk ruling out an entire generation.”
The new employment services will be located within existing mental health, addiction or charitable services, away from workplaces, and will involve specialists trained to help people with complex needs.
“This is the new frontier of employment support services, going beyond traditional job matching, finding training opportunities, helping people with a benefits system,” Ashworth said. “We now have health and wellness at the center of our focus.”
He stressed that there would be no sanctions for those who did not want to commit to the Labor government’s offer. But he said there was significant evidence that people with mental health barriers wanted to find ways to work.
“For a lot of those people who are helping them get back to work, if it can be rewarding work, it will help them with their mental health conditions, it will help them thrive,” Ashworth said. “But equally, just because it’s not right for everyone, doesn’t mean we should write everyone else off. I think it’s a monumental waste of their talents when they want to contribute to society.”
He said the Department for Work and Pensions would not “threaten people or make people feel they have to fear what is on offer here… It is about giving people support and help if it is the right thing for them. If they feel it’s not right for them, I want to offer them a bridge back to disability-related benefits.”
Ashworth said that was a different regime for those who were unemployed in the short term, for whom there would still be conditions under a Labor government. “But threatening this group of people with benefit cuts and penalties is not going to help this group of people. And that is not what we are proposing. It’s counterproductive,” he said.
The Leicester South MP said his desire to reform the way work and health interacted came from his five years as shadow health secretary, and seeing how fragmented the systems were.
“I was recently speaking with a local regional director of public health, and I just said what interactions he has with the workplace. They said almost nothing,” she said. “I find it hard to believe that we don’t have these local partnerships between local health services and employment support, working together to get people into jobs.”
Ashworth also plans to lead a review of occupational health within workplaces, to help people at risk of leaving the workplace to stay.
The announcement follows a speech by Ashworth at the Center for Social Justice, where he said the ruling party would “target the biggest jobs in the G7” by tackling the systemic challenges that keep people from working.
Delegate employment support to local authorities to find the best routes to work.
Additional personalized support to work flexibly for those with caregiving responsibilities or chronic illness.
Offers of decisions “in principle” for the financing of access to work for people with disabilities.
Change the work capacity assessment regime to allow people to accept a job without fear that they will not be able to return to the benefits they were receiving.
Ashworth said he had experienced both of his parents being out of work as a child, and his mother working two or three bar jobs in Manchester.
“It was crushing,” he said. “Unemployment is never a price worth paying, the lesson I learned from my upbringing was that employment is not just about salary but about opening doors to new horizons, aspirations and hopes for the future.”
Ashworth said Labor would end the era of a series of national schemes to get people to work, which were imposed “irrespective of the local economic needs of a community”.
He said it led to a “bewildering spaghetti crossing of a fragmented system of different nationally imposed schemes with duplication and confusion failing to deliver on the promises ministers make.”
The Guardian revealed last week that the Labor Party planned to give significant powers to local authorities and turn workplaces into training and advice centers for would-be employers.