23 April 2024

Bipolar UK is deeply concerned about the potential impact of the government's proposed fit note reform on the lives of people living with bipolar. Recent comments made by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak about these proposed changes - that they're 'to ensure people who are fit to work aren't left behind on benefits' - also raise significant concerns and disappointment. 

Bipolar UK fears that these proposed changes could affect the wellbeing of people living with bipolar instead of supporting them effectively.

Let's get our voices heard

The government has put out a ‘call for evidence’ asking people to share their views about the current fit note process. 

The aim is to gather insights and use them to improve the system so it better supports people to start, stay and succeed in employment.

If you've ever needed a sick note due to your bipolar or you’re currently in work and want to make sure the system will support you if you become unwell, you can use your lived experience to help the decision makers in government better understand the needs of people with bipolar. 

Fill in the form and help the voices of people with bipolar be heard. Let's work together to ensure that the needs of people with bipolar will be met. 

This call for evidence will close on 8 July 2024.

What is a fit note?

Fit notes are the medical statement filled in by certain healthcare professionals to give advice about the impact of a patient’s health on their ability to work.

Fit notes are given to employed people as evidence to back up a request for sick pay from their employer. They can also be used to support a claim for health-related benefits.

Sunak's statement

Rishi Sunak’s statement suggests a fundamental misunderstanding of the challenges faced by those living with severe mental health conditions. The ‘sick note culture’ phrase he used is harmful and trivialising, suggesting that people with mental health issues are over-medicalised or hesitant to work.

This idea undermines the experience of those living with often debilitating conditions, placing blame onto them and reinforcing stigma.

Recognising barriers

The Prime Minister's suggestion to replace cash benefits with treatment most importantly fails to recognise the barriers many people are facing in accessing mental health care today.

There are over 1.9 million people on NHS waiting lists for mental health services. We know from our own community of the difficulties people face in finding appropriate and timely care, with many only getting psychiatric help when they’re in total crisis.

Understanding bipolar

Bipolar symptoms are episodic. If someone becomes unwell, working is often not possible. Bipolar episodes and recovery journeys are extremely variable, but can sometimes last for many months.

As a charity, we want to help empower people to live well with bipolar. We know that, with the right treatment, care and support, many people with bipolar are valued, hard-working, excellent employees.

Sunak’s proposal to strip people of their benefits if they remain unemployed for 12 months after support from a work coach entirely neglects the realities of what severe mental illness looks like for many people.

Reducing the risk

This change to the proposed approach to the sick note process could leave countless people without the support and financial benefits they need. This stress is a risk-factor and could significantly impact someone's recovery journey. 

There's a vague promise of a 'safety net' for those 'who genuinely need it'. But this does not provide any reassurance for anyone who's have gone through the complicated process of applying for other benefits, such as Personal Independence Payment (PIP).

Greater sensitivity

We urge the government to approach this matter with greater sensitivity and a deeper understanding of the realities of the mental health crisis facing this country. It is crucial that the approach to policy is compassionate and prioritises the dignity of people who live with an SMI.

Accessible, specialist mental health care is key to ensuring people with mental health conditions can work, and so is guaranteeing good financial support when they are unwell and unable to work. 

We stand in solidarity with those who would be affected by these proposed changes and will continue to advocate for a fair and just approach to disability benefits and mental health support.

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