Conor D’Arcy, Interim Chief Executive, Money and Mental Health Policy Institute

2023: Reflections from our Interim Chief Executive

19 December 2023

  • Many of us might feel overwhelmed by the deluge of bad news across the world at the moment, and might be looking forward to a news detox over the festive period.
  • But while we prepare to log off, we’d like to recognise the important changes you, our supporters and collaborators, have helped us achieve this year.
  • From getting financial difficulty recognised in the government’s suicide prevention strategy, to helping a number of big banks improve their services for people with mental health problems, with your help we have seen important progress in 2023.
  • We couldn’t have done any of it without you – our Research Community, team, advisory board, trustees, funders and supporters. 
  • Thank you, we look forward to 2024. 

I listened to a podcast last month that made the case for why we should stop reading the news. The argument runs that most news is bad, there isn’t much we can do in response to it but we feel a sense of duty to stay informed. Those facts, combined with constant notifications from apps, leave us feeling upset, powerless but guilty if we don’t follow every update. It’s not a new theory, but it’s felt more relevant than ever, for me at least, in 2023. 

Most anti-news advocates aren’t calling for people to live in a bubble, though. Instead, it’s about getting more perspective on what’s happening, what matters and what you can do about it. So, in that spirit, I thought I’d use this end-of-the-year blog to reflect on developments this year in the areas we work on, some of which go under the radar of the daily news cycle, as well as what’s coming up, and how you can help us continue our impact in 2024.

The ongoing need for support

While 2023 has at least been comparatively peaceful in the UK, it hasn’t been a quiet year or, for many of us, an easy one. New research we published last week shows how, even as inflation has begun dropping back, higher prices continue to hit our budgets and our mental health. As we move towards the end of 2023, 5.2 million people have fallen behind on commitments like credit cards and personal loans, up 1.5 million from this time last year. The pace of price rises should drop further in 2024 and may grab fewer headlines, but the impact on those already struggling may be more long-lasting and damaging. That’s why we’re calling for clearer limits on how often creditors contact customers in debt, to stop excessive texts, calls and emails leaving people feeling harassed and overwhelmed.

The ratcheting up of interest rates has also eased. But as a paper we’re launching next month will explore, mortgagors have been rolling off more affordable deals across 2023. With an estimated additional 1.6 million households facing significant price hikes in 2024, we’ll be looking at the psychological impact of struggling to meet mortgage payments – often the bill people prioritise above everything else – and how experiencing poor mental health in that moment can make it harder to access support and make good decisions.

A moment to celebrate progress

Against that backdrop, we’ve also seen welcome policy shifts and promising progress in 2023. While many of the changes the government has made to the benefits system of late are disappointing, we were pleased that a number of actions we’ve called for over several years are being taken forward. That includes exploring ways to support people claiming Universal Credit to give others permission to act on their behalf, which was the focus of our ‘Set Up to Fail’ campaign. 

Back in September, the government published its 2023-28 suicide prevention strategy. The previous version of the strategy made only a few references to how people’s economic circumstances could place them at higher risk of suicide. We have long called for this to change and we were pleased to see that in the new document financial issues form a much more central part of the strategy with several promising actions attached – which we’ll continue to push for progress on in 2024.

Not all change happens in Westminster, of course. The practical improvements driven through our Mental Health Accessible programme are a great example of that. As in previous years, in 2023 we showed some of the biggest banks in the country how to make their services work better for people with mental health problems. But I was particularly pleased that we worked with our first clients in the energy sector, when electricity and gas bills continue to put pressure on so many families. With the general election likely to leave legislative time thin on the ground, I’m also excited about launching a new programme of work next year, exploring how banks can reduce gambling-related harms.

Thank you

None of those successes in 2023 or plans for 2024 would be possible without our amazing staff team, our trustees, our advisory board, our funders and our wider network of friends and supporters. Standing in as interim chief executive this year, I’ve particularly appreciated all the offers of support, wise words, encouragement and understanding.

The last thank you goes out to our Research Community. I’m coming up to four years at Money and Mental Health and I am still bowled over by the openness, the courage and the thoughtfulness of Community members. Feedback like the below, from a participant in a focus group on our mortgages project, sums up what keeps the team going.

I found last night extremely helpful. In a weird way it made me feel like I wasn’t alone in this situation. It’s all too easy to feel isolated and like I’m the ‘only one’. The lack of support from my mortgage provider has made me feel so low, helpless and stuck, my brain builds it up like I’m the only person facing this. Although it shouldn’t be this way, hearing from the other ladies and gents gave me a boost that it’s not just me.

Ready for 2024

So while I’m looking forward to a news detox over the festive period, I’ll be doing it in the hope it helps me gain some perspective, and prepares me to come back in 2024 with a renewed focus on what matters and what we can do about it. Because as this year has shown, even if changes feel small, we can make more of them together and they do make a difference.    

If you’d like to help us in 2024, we’d love to have you involved. If you have a mental health problem, you can join the Research Community. If you want to stay in touch with what we do (our updates are much less frequent than the BBC News app, I promise), sign up to our newsletter or Professional Network. Or if there are other ways you’d like to work with us, get in touch

Wishing you all a peaceful end to 2023. And to those of you who find this time of year difficult — I hope it passes more easily than you’re expecting. In case it helps, you can find details here about organisations that can offer support for mental health or financial problems.