Swiss Re calls for UK government to support mental health by extending EAP benefits

As World Mental Health Day approaches tomorrow (10th October), Nathan Hill, head of sales & marketing L&H UK & Ireland at Swiss Re, has called for the government to widen its support for employees through Employee Assistance Programmes.

“With the impact of Covid-19 exacerbating mental health conditions and relationship difficulties, supporting employees’ mental wellbeing has arguably never been more important,” he said. “One such way businesses seek to do this is through Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs), a low-cost way for employers to provide necessary counselling and support for their workforce’s personal or work-related issues.”

According to Hill, EAPs have proven to be valuable in not only helping employees to identify and resolve personal concerns, but also in boosting productivity and overall job satisfaction, yet in order to comply with tax exemption laws, aside from couple or family counselling, no services can currently be provided to an employee’s dependants by the EAP without incurring additional taxation under a ‘benefit in kind’ cost:

“We believe that this restriction is limiting the usage of EAP programmes and restricting the effectiveness of what could be a vital lifeline for many people. By not opening services to dependants we believe this is leaving swathes of family issues left unsupported.”

“We are therefore calling for an extension to benefits which can be provided in EAPs. This action would come at no additional cost or loss to the government revenues but would go a long way in providing a far deeper and more holistic level of support to staff at a time when this is needed more than ever.”

Hill added that for the insurance industry, pushing to provide broader levels of mental health support is not only the right thing to do, but also integral to creating an overall healthier society. Indeed, he stressed, mental illness doesn’t always exist in a silo and can sometimes carry many co-morbidities, such as obesity, cardiovascular diseases, back pain or diabetes.

He suggested that prevention programmes and support – such as those provided through EAPs – can help reduce healthcare costs, increase productivity and also shorten or reduce claims costs:

“In times of uncertainty such as right now, the issues in question are only likely to heighten so there is no better time for government to relax the rules and support employers and their workforces.”

Swiss Re’s intervention comes only a week after insurer Axa released its Future Risks Report, which suggested that mental health and misinformation may be two risks that are currently being widely underestimated, in much the same way that pandemics and infectious diseases were only considered the eighth-most-important emerging risk last year, according to Axa.