Martin from Mind blogs about how this week's budget could cost the mental health of this country dearly.
I don’t envy George Osborne. I’ve just worked out the division of bills in my flat and there was no positive element to that task at all – it will remain two painstaking hours of my life that I can never get back. And so I imagine the Treasury’s last month of sums was no picnic. But the troubles of developing this budget count for nothing against the troubles it could potentially cause.
Clearly, the country’s spending is no longer sustainable. However, modern politics should have come far enough that every party ensures the most vulnerable in society are supported, and definitely not the hardest hit. And that’s exactly what Mind fears most: that the consequences of this budget will be most acutely felt by those who most need support.
Although NHS funding has been protected, it would be a false assumption to think that this will ensure mental health service users do not have to worry about cuts. Mental health should to be seen as an issue that involves all aspects of life and all parts of society. Taking this perspective, it becomes evident that the cuts proposed to other areas of the public sector will have a deep and enduring impact on the mental wellbeing of this country.
Around half of all people claiming benefits because of illness have mental health problems. We are opposed to any assumption that the welfare system is riddled with undeserving people who somehow need to be ‘found out’. The announcement that all Disability Living Allowance claimants will be subject to a medical assessment from 2013/14 onwards accentuates this assumption.
Furthermore, with the current Work Capability Assessment for employment and support allowance being unfit to assess how people’s mental health affects their ability to work, we are not confident that this new assessment will be any more adequate. Instead, it could end up compelling people into positions that may compromise their mental health and wellbeing if it does not learn from the failures of our other benefit tests.
However, the most immediate and disturbing change to the benefits system will be the linkage of benefits to the Consumer Prices Index (currently at 3.4 per cent) as opposed to the Retail Prices Index (currently at 5.1 per cent). This means that the amount of benefit paid will not increase as much as is needed to keep up with rising prices. This will lead to a significant cut in living standards for households that are dependent on benefits – which are among the poorest in our society.
Aside from benefits, the effect of cuts to other areas, such as job losses and changes to our communities, may impact on our wellbeing, resulting in an increased need for mental health care the government can’t afford.
For example, reductions in police funding could end the good work started as part of our Another Assault campaign and public sector redundancies and the consequent rise in people’s debt levels will undoubtedly lead to increased rates of mental distress.
This budget could cost the mental health of this country dearly – is it a price our society can afford to pay?
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