Employers and gov't urged to get to grips with mental health crisis

Unite highlights pandemic anxieties as majority of workers fear losing their jobs

Reading time: 6 min

Millions of workers are anxious about the future of their jobs, a new poll published this week shows.

The research, conducted by the Centre for Labour and Social Studies (Class) think tank found that one in five people  – or six million workers – feel ‘confident’ or ‘very confident’ that they will lose their jobs in six months’ time.

The Class poll coincides with Mental Health Awareness week and lays bare the anxieties faced by huge swathes of people amid the coronavirus epidemic and lockdown.

The survey also found that 60 per cent of workers are three months or less away from defaulting on their rent or mortgage, with 26 per cent just one month away.

Almost one in four report having had trouble feeding their families, with nearly half of those who reported monthly shortfalls say they are relying on credit cards to make ends meet. More than a third say they have borrowed money from family or friends.

Huge numbers of people are fearful of the future of the economy, with 77 per cent of people believing the pandemic will spark a recession. Two in three people believe the recession will last longer than a year, and a similar number of people believe the recession will be worse than the financial crash in 2008.

People’s fears for the economy largely chime with what experts have predicted – the Bank of England has said the economy could shrink by 14 in 2020 and unemployment would double, which would see the worst recession in 300 years.

Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner highlighted the need to address the fact that millions of people are nearly at breaking point amid the coronavirus pandemic – and they need reassurances now.   

“Disproportionately impacting on the most vulnerable, poorest and minority communities, like poverty itself –death from Covid-19 is a class issue and requires a new economy; a new politics to see us through it,” he said.

“Millions of jobs are now at risk across the economy, and although the jobs cliff edge may have moved with employers being asked to pay their fair share towards wage protection from August, many will simply throw loyal workers under the bus rather than put their hands in their pockets.”

Turner reiterated Unite’s call for the government to set up a National Council for Recovery to outline a strategic plan for jobs and a fairer, greener economy.

Such a plan would help “our industrial heartlands to meet the challenges of the climate emergency, alongside a comprehensive jobs creation programme to support our regions and communities, as well as the needs of class and the planet,” he told the Morning Star.

Mental health guide

The latest research from Class about people’s anxieties over the future follows a separate survey from Unite which showed that workers’ concerns over mental health have increased dramatically since the lockdown.

The survey of more than 20,000 Unite activists found that a significant majority – 65 per cent – reported a surge in members’ mental health concerns.

The union has found that there are a variety of reasons that people’s mental health would suffer at this time of crisis – including loneliness and isolation in lockdown, especially for those who are having to shield, as well as excessive work pressures, financial worries and fears over having to return to work without adequate health and safety protections.

Unite has called on employers to take a more proactive approach to the mental wellbeing of their employees, and the union has also published a special mental health guide for those who are under mental strain amid the pandemic.

The guide includes tips on how to deal with specific mental health concerns at this time, from anxiety to claustrophobia to obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and more. The guide also gives tips for combating isolation and healthy home working.

Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail called on employers to get to grips with a mental health crisis among workforces across the country.

“Unite members operate across many sectors,” she said. “Many are key and frontline workers whose mental health may well have been affected when dealing with the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“For workers who have been furloughed or working from home, problems of isolation, loneliness, concerns about debt and fears about returning to the workplace are all issues that affect workers’ mental health,” she added.

“It is imperative that employers undertake risk assessments on workers’ mental health and implement the required actions to protect workers. We urge them to do this while actively encouraging and assisting workers to raise mental health concerns and then ensure they receive the help they need.

“It is also crucial that employers understand that mental health issues will not disappear overnight and that additional awareness and assistance remains in place for the foreseeable future.”

The theme for Mental Health Awareness week this week is ‘Kindness’. Find out more on here – and stay tuned on UniteLive for more coverage on mental health this week.

By Hajera Blagg

Related Articles