North East mental health charity hits out at Prime Minister's 'deeply harmful' sicknote speech

Adam Crampsie (left) and Rishi Sunak (right)
Adam Crampsie (left) and Rishi Sunak (right) -Credit:Reach Plc/Getty

A leading North East charity boss has hit out at the Prime Minister over what's been called a "deeply harmful" speech that "stigmatised" those with mental health issues.

PM Rishi Sunak announced on Friday a "moral mission" that would involve requiring more people to work in some form even if they had health issues. He said his Government would be consulting on a "more objective and rigorous" system of assessment for personal independence payments (PIPs), and questioned whether people with mental health illnesses had the same need of ongoing support as those with physical health issues.

The Prime Minister speech included the line: "We need to be more ambitious about helping people back to work. And more honest about the risk of over-medicalising the everyday challenges and worries of life."

Citing a £69bn figure for benefits paid to those of working age with a disability or health condition, he also said: "We can’t afford such a spiralling increase in the welfare bill and the irresponsible burden that would place on this and future generations of taxpayers."

Mr Sunak also announced plans to take the power to sign someone off with a sicknote - now formally known as a "fit note" away from doctors and give this to "specialist work and health professionals" who he said would objectively assess someone's fitness to work.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak -Credit:PA Archive/PA Images

However, in response, Adam Crampsie - chief executive of Tyneside-based, national charity Everyturn Mental Health - attacked the Prime Minister's rhetoric. He said: "Rhetoric like this is stigmatising and deeply harmful, as it does not reflect the reality of the many thousands of people experiencing mental health issues. We know that the challenges people face in their lives cannot be separated from their mental health. It is the very 'worries of life' the Prime Minister mentions that often push people into mental health crisis.

"The cost-of-living crisis in particular has been devastating to so many people. We know that people on the lowest incomes are up to three times more likely to develop mental health issues. 41% of people who accessed Everyturn Mental Health’s crisis services in 2023 were due to financial concerns.

"At Everyturn, we know how important work is to people’s wellbeing, sense of purpose, and financial security. For that reason, mental health support should look at a person's whole life, and that includes supporting them into the work that is right for them."

Adam said that Mr Sunak had implied people with mental health issues were "shirking" employment, and said he was "only adding to" mental health stigma. Instead, Adam said that investing in public services and clinical support for people with mental health concerns "is what would genuinely help people get back into work".

This comes after national disability charity Scope said the extent of the proposed change to PIP was “unexpected” and felt “like a full-on assault on disabled people". The British Medical Association also criticised the “hostile rhetoric on sicknote culture” and cited the need to tackle lengthy waiting lists in the NHS to get people the care they need.

Dr Katie Bramall-Stainer, chair of the BMA’s GP committee, said: “With a waiting list of 7.5 million – not including for mental health problems – delays to diagnostics, and resulting pressures on GP practices, patients cannot get the treatment they need to be able to return to work.

“So rather than pushing a hostile rhetoric on ‘sicknote culture’, perhaps the Prime Minister should focus on removing what is stopping patients from receiving the physical and mental healthcare they need, which in turn prevents them from going back to work."