The Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak delivered his 2021 Budget heavily influenced by needing to address the health, social and economic impact of coronavirus. The main points of interest from the UK Government's Spring Budget for those of us with mental health problems are:
“The UK Government has made some welcome proposals to help mitigate the huge financial, social and health impacts of coronavirus, for example extending the furlough scheme until September 2021 and the £20 increase to Universal Credit (UC), to try to make sure that people have enough to live on while they are unable to work. These changes are welcome, but they still fall far short of what is needed to address the mental health crisis we are facing, and the issues which have disproportionately impacted those of us with mental health problems.
“As we move forward, the UK Government must put mental health at the heart of their recovery strategy in England and commit to all UK Government departments - and the NHS - addressing both the short and the longer-term mental health fall out of the pandemic. To do this, chronically underfunded mental health services must be properly resourced with additional investment - so they can meet increased demand - and provide timely and culturally relevant support to counteract the escalating impact of trauma and disadvantage.
“As well as investing in mental health services, this strategy must tackle the wider social issues - such as unemployment, debt, education, and poor housing - which are taking a huge toll on people’s mental health, and widening existing inequalities particularly for those in insecure employment and people from different Black, Asian and other Ethnic Minority communities, who we know have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Nobody should be pushed into poverty at this time.”
On Universal Credit:
“The Chancellor announced extra £20 a week uplift to Universal Credit until September 2021. While we welcome this increase, these measures do not address the underlying systemic problems with the benefits system. This increase needs to be made permanent, and urgently widened to support those receiving older disability benefits like Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) – many of whom face extra costs because they are disabled - so they can afford to live and get by.
“The benefits system should protect us when our mental or physical health prevents us from earning enough to live on, but too often people are left without the financial support they desperately need. More than four in ten people (42%) living in families that rely on disability benefits are in poverty. Mind regularly hears from people experiencing mental health problems, left short at the hands of a needlessly complicated and stressful system, which can cause someone’s mental health to worsen. Whether it’s the insensitive assessments in which people are often asked to recount trauma and suicide attempts, to having to wait five weeks for the first payment, this system too often prevents people from keeping afloat. Nobody should have to worry about not being able to afford basic essentials, especially during this devastating pandemic.
“We’re particularly concerned that even more people with mental health problems are being left behind. We urge the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to end repeated reassessments and remove sanctions from people with long term mental health problems, for good.”
What’s missing / what we would like to see:
On Statutory Sick Pay (SSP):
“Sometimes our mental and physical health can prevent us from earning enough to support ourselves, and when this happens, we need to be supported to find the right kind of work if and when we are ready. The current Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) system is not supporting people enough, two thirds of people with a mental health problem who received SSP said it caused them financial problems.
“Waiting until day four of illness before Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) kicks in causes people to avoid taking the time off they need to when they are unwell. By taking the decision to pay SSP from day one to people of sick with coronavirus, the UK Government has recognised that the current system risks forcing people to work when unwell. We are urging the UK Government to reduce the waiting time permanently for everyone, increase the amount paid to match the minimum wage, and make sure everyone is entitled to SSP.”
Local Welfare Assistance schemes:
“Local welfare support is key to keeping households on low incomes afloat at times of crisis. Welfare support can be strengthened by the existing knowledge councils have of their community’s needs. Knowledge of local schemes available and relationships with voluntary and community sector partners, often makes local authorities best placed to offer crisis support, like emergency hardship loans.
“The UK Government has already acknowledged this by providing additional funding, enabling councils to improve local crisis provision. As we begin to rebuild our communities after the pandemic, households need to be assured that if they face an immediate crisis, they will have somewhere to turn for urgent financial support.
“The Treasury needed to allocate £250 million for local welfare provision in the upcoming budget for the year 2021/22. This would help make sure everyone up and down the country has a local welfare safety net.”
“The £500m investment in NHS services announced at the 2020 Spending Review was welcome, however the care that people living with severe mental health problems need reaches further than the NHS. It needs to look at people’s broader experiences by providing a joined-up approach between mental health and social care, and make sure people are treated with dignity and respect.
“Mental health social care services funded by local authorities can provide people severely affected by mental health problems with a supported home and help them achieve their goals to integrate back into the community. Feeling lonely or isolated can have a huge impact on our mental health, which we have seen far too acutely as a result of the pandemic. With this is mind, mental health care services and additional social care support could help prevent those at risk of developing mental health problems for the first time due to loneliness and social isolation in residential settings.
“Without additional funding for local authorities, some services may close - or be greatly reduced despite increased demand as the true economic fall-out from the pandemic bites.”Parliament Universal credit