Mental health and employment: the costs and potential returns for funders


Benedict Rickey


Benedict Rickey

A failure to treat people with mental health problems and get them back into work is costing the government, employers and society billions of pounds every year. Yet there are many opportunities for private funders to invest in projects that could save money and improve the lives of thousands of people. This is the key finding of NPC’s report Job well done, which is published today at a roundtable event that brings together funders, health experts, government and charities.

Mental health is key to everyone’s well-being. It affects our relationships, our work and our overall happiness, allowing us to fulfil our potential and have an active and enjoyable life. But at any one time, one in six people are suffering from a mental health problem. This not only causes huge distress, also it costs society an estimated £67 billion every year. That’s a huge number. It’s equal to the amount the government has spent bailing out UK banks in recent years.

In spite of the scale of the problem, only a handful of large-scale private funders give to mental health and employment charities. There are notable exceptions, like The Stone Family Foundation, but they are few and far between. Why such a shortage of private funders? Some are put off by the complexity of the issue – mental health covers a spectrum of conditions and people’s mental health fluctuates, so simple ‘off the shelf’ solutions are hard to come by. In a society where mental health problems are still largely taboo, some private funders may simply see funding in this area as too sensitive. Some may believe that treating mental health should be left to government.

With a dearth of private funding, many mental health and employment charities are heavily dependent on government funding. This constrains innovation, but also means many face cuts. Not only that, they are facing a huge and growing number of people with mental health problems out of work – as many as 2.3 million, according to one estimate. More private funding would help these charities meet needs.

But this sector is not just about needs and costs, it’s also about opportunities. Charities provide a range of proven and promising approaches to helping people with mental health problems get back to work, and remain in work. Our report identifies four funding options for private funders: funding employment advisors within mental health services; funding tailored one-to-one employment support; funding training for government employment advisors to deliver proven models of support; and supporting the scale up of charities that help make workplaces mental health-friendly.

We also look at the impact and potential returns of funding mental health programmes. Helping someone to get back to work benefits the individual, their family, their employer and the state. Our calculations suggest that all our options would produce positive social returns in year one. For example, a charity helping a third of beneficiaries back to work would deliver value equivalent to £1.60 for every £1 invested in the first year. This is real value – every person helped back into work is worth at least £11,560, with £9,900 going to the individual, and the remaining £1,660 going to the state. The returns are likely to grow over time. Other options provide returns of double or triple the original funding.

So there is huge potential for private funding to improve the lives of people with mental health problems, by helping them to find jobs and make the most of their work. Funding in this area won’t be easy – funders will have to be informed, strategic and focussed on impact. But the opportunities and potential returns are there. We think it’s time a few more funders took the plunge. We hope Job well done encourages more of them to do so.

Benedict Rickey is a consultant at New Philanthropy Capital, and author of Job well done. If you are a funder interested in funding in mental health and employment please get in touch with Ben at

Tagged in: Government cuts Mental health Private funders Well-being

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