Sick of being unemployed

The health issues of out of work men and how support services are failing to address them are examined in this report produced by the Men's Health Forum and The Work Foundation.

Unemployment is bad for your health. It can cause serious, long-term physical and mental health problems, and exacerbate pre-existing conditions. Whilst the harmful effect of unemployment is felt by both genders, there is evidence to suggest that men are overall more likely to suffer adverse health consequences than women. This is particularly evident with those employed in temporary or unstable work, and amongst those men with a lower socioeconomic status.

Not only is poor health a potential outcome of unemployment for men, but it is also a barrier to returning to and staying in work. Employment services in the UK appear to have made few efforts to address this issue, despite potential capacity within the Work Programme to provide specialist health support. As unemployed men are less likely to access health services, new ways to support the health needs of this group are urgently needed if both health and unemployment outcomes are to improve.


Jobcentres must be supported to allow greater action to prevent poor health amongst unemployed men, helping back to work support providers identify men at risk of or already suffering from poor health. Incentivising Work Programme providers to address the health risks of unemployment is also likely to help tackle the situation.

The government must ensure that both preventing ill health and addressing existing health conditions that are barriers to returning to work are priorities within back to work support services.

Furthermore, there is an urgent need for further research in this area; little recent primary research has focused on health and unemployment in the specific context of the UK benefit system, in particular the Work Programme. The impact of changes to the welfare system such as increasing conditionality and payment by results incentive structures should be considered, as to should the health of the unemployed who are not claiming out of work benefit.

Summary of recommendations

  • The introduction of an assessment of barriers to returning to work when an individual claims an out of work benefit could be a useful tool in quickly identifying individuals with current health conditions or who at risk of developing poor health as a result of unemployment. This could help Jobcentre advisors target support at an early stage, and could help prevent health-related ‘churning’ on and off from benefits.
  • Work Programme providers need to be given greater incentives and support to tackle the health issues which can prevent returning to work, or develop during a period of unemployment.
  • Linking job outcome payments to level of need rather than benefit type (as recommended in both the ACEVO/NCVO and ERSA reports) might be an effective method of encouraging a greater focus on health when the next version of the Work Programme is commissioned in 2015. The level of need could be decided through the use of the assessment tool mentioned previously.
  • The government should consider how ill-health in unemployed men could be prevented, and should be a part of back to work support provided through Jobcentre Plus. As this paper demonstrates, not only does unemployment lead to poor health outcomes amongst men, but poor health hinders returning to work. Action to prevent poor health as soon as an individual claims an out of work benefit has the potential to be a cost saving intervention.
  • Local government should work in partnership with Jobcentres, health care providers and charities to create a Local Services Framework. This would provide a comprehensive guide to local specialist services available to Jobcentres, and should include organisations able to tackle health related barriers.

Sick of being unemployed report (PDF, 661kb)