The deadline for larger companies to report on their gender pay gap is on the horizon, though at present there is no clear guidance on whether this will be mandatory after compulsory disclosure was suspended last year in the face of the Covid pandemic. Meanwhile, there is growing consensus that similar reporting requirements should be introduced for ethnic minority pay.
Against this backdrop comes new evidence of income disparities for workers suffering from mental health conditions. According to the recent report from the Mental Health and Income Commission, the median income for workers with common illnesses such as anxiety and depression is about two-thirds that of other workers, equivalent to an annual earnings gap of £8,400.
This shortfall is said to be the result of “entrenched barriers to jobs and workplace progression” for those with mental health conditions, who are far more likely to be in lower-paid roles. Often they also face significant challenges in gaining higher-paid employment.
The research combined ONS data with dozens of interviews with people affected by mental ill health. Of those surveyed, 64 per cent had asked for reasonable adjustments to accommodate their condition, and of those, a fifth were rejected and 48% only had their request met in part.
One major stumbling block to income parity is sick pay coverage, which is not designed with the complexity of absence linked to mental health in mind. When contractual sick pay entitlement runs out, or is not offered in the first place, Statutory Sick Pay of £95.85 per week kicks in. More often than not, this falls far short of covering basic living expenses.
Regular absences from work are also a barrier to promotion. Given the choice between two candidates with the same qualifications, employers are more likely to choose those with fewer gaps on their CV or a better attendance record.
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With the pandemic taking a widespread toll on everyone, the time has come to help those who are suffering to succeed, rather than putting up barriers and adding to their worries.
This should start with a review of absence policies to ensure they aren’t unnecessarily punitive to those coping with anxiety and depression, quickly followed by the implementation of processes making it easier to request reasonable adjustments to working patterns.
Recruitment bias also needs to come under the microscope, as only then will workers’ fear begin to ease about the stigma of mental health conditions.
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