12th October 2017

Motorists, mental health and the automotive industry’s own charity

World Mental Health Day is recognised annually on October 10th and was this year given the theme ‘Mental health in the workplace’. With 281,000 licensed taxi and private hire vehicles2 operating on UK roads alongside millions of both employed and self-employed ‘gig economy’ couriers plus company car and van drivers, the workplace for many people is their vehicle.

Research from Goodyear Tyres UK has revealed that, on the back of UK traffic volumes reaching an all-time high to March 2017, a whopping 46% of Brits surveyed said they would consider changing their jobs to avoid facing congestion, while 9% say they are the most stressed they have ever been in their lives because of congestion4.

Parking is another major cause of anxiety for UK drivers, with a spacehopper survey identifying that over 50% of those polled suffer from stress due to frustrations in finding spaces, with 47% even scrapping family outings as they can’t face the inevitable stress. Increasing numbers of people renting out their driveways, along with businesses, hotels and other organisations opening up their own spare parking spaces will indeed help alleviate this issue and we’re always pleased to hear of new initiatives.

The automotive industry has its own charity called Ben6 that provides support to those who have previously worked or still work in the sector, along with their families, focussing on helping people address challenges ranging from financial and physical to mental and social

The Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness launched a ‘Spotlight on Men’ month to highlight the millions of men in the UK who it says are battling loneliness and Ben subsequently cited loneliness as a key issue affecting what it calls a ‘male dominated industry’7. While women are employed in important public and media-facing roles across many automotive organisations, the industry workforce as a whole was still comprised 89% men8 as of October 2016.

Returning to the gig economy for a moment, one ride-hailing driver who was interviewed by the FT9 recounted how long hours and relentless driving began to take a toll on his physical and mental wellbeing, and that parts of London where he operated were notorious for accidents amongst such drivers, mostly attributed to fatigue.

On the other side of the coin, though, numerous studies have identified that flexibility can improve a person’s health, with ongoing European Working Conditions Survey data highlighting a definite correlation between wellbeing and the ability to ‘take an hour or two off during working hours to take care of personal or family matters’.

There is also the example of a woman interviewed by Harriet Marsden in the Independent who relied on Uber as the only solution viable to her in getting to work on days when her mental health almost prevented her from leaving the house. The certainty of knowing the registration number, driver’s name and rating of the expected car proved a real blessing in her case. With Uber’s status in London currently up in the air, it nevertheless shows how vital other similar ridesharing services are for the millions of people around the world with mental health struggles.

The 13th of October this year may well be a Friday but it was a day to be embraced, with Ben holding its national fundraising event ‘Hats on 4 Mental Health’11, last year’s debut raising a brilliant £13,000 from people chipping in to wear a hat to work.

Last month, Ben launched a new package called Ben4Business12 aimed at firms in the automotive industry and built around four key programme elements: BenAware, raising awareness of the charity’s work and support services; BenatWork, working with HR departments to implement organisational improvements; BenTraining and BackingBen.

With the UK’s roads not expected to become less busy any time soon and driving jobs set to continue proliferating, especially in the festive run-up, all initiatives raised at improving motorists’ mental health and wellbeing are to be welcomed. The support Ben provides is to be commended in a thriving and unarguably exciting sector set to change enormously in coming years as electric and driverless vehicles roll out, its workforce hopefully becoming yet more diverse at the same time.