Conor D’Arcy, Head of Research & Policy, Money and Mental Health Policy Institute
Autumn Statement 2022: what it could mean for people with mental health problems
17 November 2022
The big-picture news from today’s Autumn Statement was bleak. The Chancellor set out a miserable short-term outlook for the economy, with a recession already thought to be underway and inflation staying stubbornly high next year at over 7%. The support being offered to households with energy bills is being reduced, with a range of tax rises – including through council tax – on the way. But against that difficult backdrop, the confirmation that benefits like Universal Credit (UC) will rise in line with inflation, and targeted cost of living payments will continue, was welcome. Here’s a quick look at some of the key takeaways and what they might mean for people with mental health problems.
The new cost of living support measures are much needed
Pensioners and people receiving working-age benefits will have breathed a sigh of relief at the announcement that the state pension and payments like UC will rise in line with inflation in April. For many people who rely on benefits for their income, it will still be hard to get by. But the commitment to keep pace with inflation at least avoids what could have been a living standards disaster. Additional targeted payments for people on means-tested and disability benefits will also help those struggling to make ends meet.
The Household Support Fund (HSF), which saw councils given £1 billion to directly support those most in need, has been extended for another year. That’s no bad thing, but as recent research has shown, discretionary funding pots like this can be hard to access, particularly if you’re experiencing poor mental health. Awareness of the HSF also remains limited even among low-income families. While it’s good news that local authorities have funding to help those struggling, boosting benefits might be a better way of getting that support to those who need it most.
Delays to Universal Credit ‘managed migration’ offer an opportunity to improve this process
There were other announcements for people who are out of work and those receiving benefits. The ‘managed migration’ of people from Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), which was due to be completed by the end of 2024, has been pushed back. We were worried about this because the way the process was being managed raised the risk that some particularly vulnerable people could be cut off from their incomes at a time of record-high inflation. Pushing back the end date gives the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) extra time to ensure the right protections are in place.
The Chancellor also announced a review of issues holding back workforce participation. That’s a great opportunity to look again at the gaps in how employers and Jobcentres support people experiencing poor mental health to find and stay in work. That latter point will be especially crucial given the announcement that an additional 600,000 people will be required to meet with a DWP Work Coach. For people with mental health problems, we’ve unfortunately heard how DWP staff often don’t understand how those of us with mental health problems can struggle with specific tasks.
Council tax rises could boost social care - but must not come at the expense of people who are struggling
The biggest moves on tax came with the freezing of various thresholds. But the Autumn Statement has also made it easier for local authorities to raise council tax. Councils can introduce increases of 5% without having to carry out a referendum of residents. On the one hand, this should allow more funds to be raised for local services and social care which are often stretched. But past Money and Mental Health research has found that councils frequently fail to support more vulnerable residents, including those with mental health problems. In a survey of our Research Community, four in five respondents said that their council had not provided information about council tax support schemes and less than half said they knew about the discounts they were eligible for. We’ve also heard some distressing experiences of councils using bailiffs and threats of imprisonment against residents with mental health problems, despite other parts of the council supporting the same individuals. More money for key services is good, but it can’t come on the back of bad treatment of people in vulnerable circumstances.
We’ll be publishing more analysis on how the cost of living crisis is affecting people’s finance and mental health in the coming weeks – watch this space for more details.