Wednesday, 19 March 2008
The Cost of Ill-health and Happiness
The cost of ill-health to the British economy is a staggering £103 billion a year according to a recent report from Professor Dame Carol Black, National Director for Health and Work. This article from today's spiked suggests that the government's attempts to get the unemployed back to work by e.g. re-branding "Incapacity Benefit" as "Employment and Support Allowance", is merely tinkering at the edges. I'm inclined to agree. Other carrot-and-stick measures such as tougher health tests for those claiming IB and requiring doctors to intervene sooner are unlikely to be successful and will instead just create more expensive targets and measures to be monitored and circumvented, in the same way that hospital waiting lists have been.
The article quotes one professor of psychiatry, Simon Wessely, as saying that many normal human experiences are being medicalised; for example feeling sadness after a bereavement is now seen as a health "problem" for which there should be a medical cure. People are encouraged to think of negative emotions as something can and should be avoided - take the frequency with which counselling is offered after traumatic events for example, even though there is growing scientific evidence that most people heal better and more quickly without it.
Off hand I don't know how the UK compares to other European countries regarding the true cost of ill-health (if anyone reading this does, let me know!). I agree with Mick Hume that the answer lies not in treating the entire problem as one of ill-health (and certainly not in the ways the government proposes), rather we need to be looking more seriously at the underlying causes. If it is the case that many of those people on IB should really be at work, the question is why they prefer to claim state benefits rather than make a meaningful contribution to society. That is a much deeper issue.
Once again I'm left thinking that those of us with an interest in Positive Psychology and the science behind happiness need to ensure we talk about the benefits of PP in business without it sounding like we inhabit cloud-cuckoo land.