Mental health problems such as depression can dramatically affect the sufferer’s earnings. Photograph: Denis Closon/RexPeople
People suffering from mental health problems such as depression and panic attacks earn up to 42% less than their peers, prompting the government’s equalities watchdog to brand the pay gap “a disgrace”.
Evidence collected by the Equality and Human Rights Commission has exposed stark differences between the earnings of those suffering from psychological illness and those who are not. For every pound that a non-disabled man earns, men who have conditions such as phobias or panic attacks earn only 58p. Similarly, men with anxiety or depression are paid only 74p for every pound earned by their contemporaries those who have no such troubles.
The commission has found a similar but less pronounced pattern with women: those suffering from anxiety or depression earn 10p less for every pound earned by their non-disabled peers, according to research to be published next month which the commission has passed to the Observer.
“We must do more to tackle the injustice in our society of this mental health pay gap,” said David Isaac, EHRC chair. The figures revealed “the hidden disgrace of British society’s pay gap for men and women living with depression and panic attacks”, he added.
The watchdog’s findings have prompted claims of discrimination in the workplace against people with mental health problems. “These findings are really shocking,” said Martin Tod, chief executive of the Men’s Health Forum. “Our research shows that men with mental health difficulties are very concerned about how their employers will perceive them. This research shows they’re absolutely right to be.”
The commission has been taken aback by the scale of some of the differentials uncovered during its research into gender, ethnic and disability pay gaps. Isaac urged ministers to narrow the gaps as part of its promise to improve mental health support.
“Business leaders and government must get together to understand why this is happening and ensure that employers have the right policies and culture to protect and support people with mental health issues at work and help them develop in their chosen careers,” he said.
Commission analysis of men who suffer from mental impairment, including learning difficulties and mental health problems, has concluded that they are more likely to earn less as a result of working part-time, being in low-paid jobs or having few educational qualifications. Notwithstanding that, however, “there is still a large and unexplained gap and the impact of discrimination and stigmatisation as underlying factors should not be underestimated”.
The findings come days after the latest British Social Attitudes Survey found evidence of perceptions of prejudice in the workplace. For example, few people believe that a person with depression (17%) or schizophrenia (8%) that is well controlled by medication would be as likely as others to be promoted. And about one in three think that the medical history of someone with either condition should make a difference to their chances of gaining promotion.
NatCen Social Research’s study also found that while 71% of people would be willing to move next door to someone with depression, just 45% said the same about a person with schizophrenia. Similarly, just 36% are happy to have someone with depression marry into their family, and fewer than 20% would want someone with the condition providing childcare for their family.
Emma Mamo, head of workplace wellbeing at the mental health charity Mind, said: “Fortunately, employer attitudes towards recruiting and supporting people with mental health problems are improving, with many employers now putting in place measures to support staff wellbeing.
“It’s unacceptable that people with mental health problems earn less than those without mental health problems.“Staff who have a mental health problem can and do make a valuable contribution to the workplace,” said Mamo: “People with mental health problems face barriers in getting into, and staying in, work. Many employees don’t feel comfortable disclosing a mental health problem to their employer, often fearing they’ll be perceived as weak, incompetent or unable to cope.”
The EHRC has found that people with mental health conditions wanted three things from employers: flexible working, more supportive managers and understanding from colleagues. However, almost none of them had been offered those things.