Becca Stacey, Senior Research Officer, Money and Mental Health Policy Institute

Spring Budget: What could the ‘trailblazer’ deals mean for levelling up mental and financial health?

24 March 2023

There were some key commitments made in last week’s budget that are set to have a significant impact on people with mental health problems, as outlined by our Chief Executive Helen Undy. While some proposals were more positive than others, one area that provides a particularly welcome opportunity relates to levelling up.

In particular were the ‘trailblazer’ deals that bring new and deeper powers to Greater Manchester and the West Midlands. Accompanied by the single funding settlements, that will provide greater flexibility for investing in their areas, these are important steps needed to level up the country’s mental and financial health.

People with mental health problems are being left behind

Research we conducted last year showed that across the country, people with mental health problems are being left behind. In a handful of ‘inequality hotspots’, the disadvantage they face is much greater than the average. From barriers to accessing good employment and good-quality and affordable housing, to a lack of regular and affordable transport, there are some key challenges that need to be addressed.  

We outlined the different roles policymakers at the national, devolved and local levels can play in tackling these inequalities. But the persistent centralisation of funds and power has made it especially difficult for local leaders. While many have managed to take great steps in spite of this, these new ‘trailblazer’ deals will enable this action to go further. 

Three highlights from the ‘trailblazer’ deals

Given the additional barriers many people with mental health problems face to entering into work, access to good quality employment support is especially important. But when it comes to receiving employment support from the jobcentre, only 9% of Research Community members we surveyed – a network of nearly 5,000 people with lived experience of mental health problems – felt this had supported them into work that was suitable given their mental health problem.

“I live relatively near a large industrial estate. All benefit based employment support seems to consist of pushing people into full time physical roles at local factories, no matter whether it’s suitable. There is no support locally for access to training, education, working from home etc.” Expert by experience

There’s been increasing acknowledgement across government that local leaders are better-placed to respond to and support people who face barriers to engaging with local labour markets. And the first highlight from these ‘trailblazer’ deals is that Greater Manchester and West Midlands will have the opportunity to provide employment support that can better target those struggling to access employment in their area. This has been accompanied by welcome nods to better integration between employment and health services, something we’ve long called for. 

Many people with mental health problems are also struggling to cover the cost of their housing. The key drivers are a lack of social housing and expensive private rents which far exceed the rate of benefits.

I don’t think you can consider the area without considering the housing crisis and how many of us on benefits have very little choice where we live and are separated from our support networks.” Expert by experience

So the second highlight from these ‘trailblazer’ deals is that the affordable housing programme – which provides grants to housing providers to support the delivery of affordable homes – is being devolved and extended outside of London for the first time. This will see Greater Manchester have an estimated £400m for the delivery of affordable housing, and welcome new powers on housing quality, which could help to make more housing accessible to people with mental health problems. 

And finally, people with mental health problems, especially those living in rural areas, often struggle to access regular and affordable public transport. This, in turn, can impact on the accessibility of employment, affordable essential retailers and services.

The cost of transport (£6 minimum) has to be factored into every decision…It’s hard to feel like I am ‘worth’ this, and to justify the expense from my very limited budget…Putting in a prescription request for mental health meds, & going back days later to collect it, is 2 x £6, 13 times a year.” Expert by experience

The third highlight from these ‘trailblazer’ deals could also go some way to addressing these challenges. Integrating transport systems in these areas, so they resemble London’s where  passengers are able to tap-in and tap-out for simpler fares, is a step in the right direction. But it’s equally important that the issue of affordability is also addressed. Andy Burnham (Mayor of Greater Manchester) and Tracy Brabin (Mayor of West Yorkshire) have done great work in capping bus fares, but we’d also like to see local leaders have the power to expand the eligibility criteria for concessionary travel schemes to include people with mental health problems. 

Next steps

At Money and Mental Health, we have been having conversations with those in Greater Manchester Combined Authority who are working to address the challenges residents face with their mental and financial health. It’s great that these new deals will provide greater power and flexibility to expand on existing, and deliver new, initiatives. And with the upcoming wave of new devolution deals, we look forward to working more closely with other local leaders to ensure initiatives are delivered that provide everyone across the country with equal access to good mental and financial health. 

For more information and policy recommendations on how levelling up can remove barriers faced by people with mental health problems, read our report, No one left behind.