The cost-of-living crisis, created by several factors including the increase in prices and low financial support for those who need it most, has led to a negative impact on people’s mental health, worsening it for those who already experience poor mental health or living with mental illness. The Association, which represents over 300 providers of voluntary and community sector mental health and wellbeing services, delivering over 3000 services across England supporting nearly 8m people, know first hand how the cost of living crisis is impacting our communities.
The Association calls for action immediately by the new Prime Minster to address the challenge facing us.
Following a decade of austerity, which had already seen a large population struggle and, for example, led to a substantial increase in food banks, the current social security reductions and inflation increases have only worsened the situation exponentially, creating a crisis for wider society than ever before.
We know that financial insecurity poses a grave risk to the nation’s mental health, especially those from marginalised communities who have already faced many years of deprivation and for whom, the situation will only worsen. Since 2010, cuts have seen local government spending power reduce by 16% (Institute for Government, 2022), with public health suffering even sharper reductions, down 24% in real terms (King’s Fund, 2021) with deprived communities suffering the most severe cuts.
We must reverse the impact of national government policies and local expenditure cuts, especially to public health spending, on mental and physical health and our health systems, including VCSE services.
We know that poverty has increased by 10% over the last 15 years (JRF, 2020) and that it is a major contributor to mental – and physical – health outcomes. So far this year, nearly three quarters of low-income households receiving Universal Credit or other means-tested benefits, many of them working families, have been forced to go without at least one essential. This means people having to skip meals or not being able to heat their homes properly. (JRF, 2022)
Frighteningly, children from the poorest 20% of households are four times as likely to have serious mental health needs by the age of 11 as those from the wealthiest 20%. (Morrison Gutman et al., 2015)
Suicide rates among middle-aged people are more than double in the most deprived areas compared to the least deprived. (Windsor-Shellard, 2020)
Our members of voluntary, community, and social enterprise (VCSE) sector providers of mental health and wellbeing services are already seeing the cost-of-living impact the people they support and their services.
“Those who have the least support from the welfare system – they tend to be men coming out of the prison system who get the bare bones income support as single people. They are having to cover their food and heat/light/transport from their benefits.” – member of Association of Mental Health Providers
One member has seen their daily average enquiries triple in recent months. More people are using or being signposted to free services to get support; many of whom, need expert advice and support, but unfortunately, are not able to afford them.
Another member, providing a faith-based helpline service, has reported an increase in calls around general stress and anxiety, with many callers indicating their financial insecurities as a contributing factor to their poor mental health.
“Some of the people we support are already accessing local food pantries etc and, whilst food bank use was sporadic in the past, it is becoming more normalised. Meanwhile, many of the food banks in the areas in which we work are already running out of supplies on a regular basis.” (member of Association of Mental Health Providers)
The cost-of-living crisis has been a “major talking point” within group and peer sessions and during one-to-one sessions as part of the regular service delivery. A member, supporting African-Caribbean communities, reports that 60% of the user population have cited increased feelings of anxiety which is showing on the mental wellbeing scale which monitors fluctuations in mood and wellbeing.
The cost-of-living impact is also being felt by the mental health workforce.
“We do have staff asking for support for accessing wages before month-end and support for help with travel to work costs. It can only be a matter of time before we are asked to increase our mileage for staff needing to use their car for work – we currently pay the maximum of 45p per mile and pay for all miles incurred when traveling for work.” – member of Association of Mental Health Providers
“We now have a situation where we have 37% voluntary turnover; turnover in the sector has always been high but this is unprecedented. We are coming across more cases where employees are having to take new jobs, not because they wish to leave us but as a financial necessity. Some of these employees take roles outside the sector as we are aware that you can often get higher pay in less skilled roles eg supermarkets. Our view is that it is only going to get worse over the winter.” – member of Association of Mental Health Providers
VCSE mental health services are already stretched and struggling but as always, our members are committed to supporting people with poor mental health and illness through this crisis. However, they cannot do this alone – VCSE mental health services are at a breaking point and must be supported.
The cost-of-living crisis presents new challenges for services internally and externally and we must implement interventions immediately and offer adequate support to those on the lowest incomes and those already experiencing health inequalities, who are most at risk of experiencing poor or worsening mental health and suicide.