People with mental health problems need more financial support during coronavirus crisis
2 April 2020
All of us are dealing with an increased strain on our mental health as a result of the spread of coronavirus. You might notice you’re forgetting things more frequently, or that solving problems is tougher as you struggle to concentrate. It might be harder to find the motivation to do routine things like getting up and dressed in the morning. With the world upside-down, carrying on as normal can feel pointless.
“The uncertainty and sudden changes have impacted my mental health. I am worried as a parent, a worker, how my income will be affected if I can’t work. I am scared of getting ill as I have underlying health issues. My mood is rapidly cycling through grief, shock and anxiety.”
Millions of people across the UK experiencing a mental health problem were already dealing with some of these challenges before the pandemic; all are common symptoms of mental health problems. But life has almost certainly become harder in the last few weeks for those living with mental illness, as they cope with being cut off from friends, family and other sources of support in their communities, including mental health services.
A new survey published today of nearly 600 people from Money and Mental Health’s Research Community highlights the difficulties this group is facing and the steps that government, regulators and firms can take to help.
Hurdles to accessing financial support
In recent weeks, the government has outlined unprecedented measures to protect financial wellbeing through the crisis. But many of those who responded to our survey were worried that the help wouldn’t reach them, or wouldn’t be enough to make ends meet.
“It seems to me that I fall into a crack in the Chancellor’s rescue package. I feel really frightened.”
Over half (57%) said they were worried about losing their job because of the virus. Many were concerned that the support the government was offering them, whether through Universal Credit, Statutory Sick Pay or the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme, just wouldn’t be enough to pay the bills.
“Paying bills is a worry as due to my wife being a self-employed cleaner she has lost all her income all of a sudden. I already have debts of £30K+ and do not think I will get help to get over our latest money problems.”
More than three in five (62%) survey respondents said they were worried about having to access the benefits system. Bureaucracy can be difficult at the best of times for people experiencing mental health problems, which can make filling in forms, remembering details and making phone calls much harder – all necessary steps in making and maintaining claims for benefits. But with advice services closed, people unable to visit friends and family for help and long queues on government phone lines, some are at risk of falling out of the system and missing out on payments through no fault of their own.
Time for the government to go further, fast
The testimony of our Research Community members makes for challenging reading. But there are simple steps the government can take, right now, to help people with mental health problems.
With too many of our respondents telling us they’re worried about being able to buy food and pay essential bills, the government should ensure those who indicate they have a disability or mental health problem receive payments while their claims are processed, so they don’t face hardship. The five-week wait for Universal Credit should also be ended, by offering people a grant until their first payment is made, rather than the loan currently available.
The government should bend the rules to allow more time to return benefits claims forms and to make follow-up appointments by telephone. Ensuring new schemes, like Self-Employment Income Support, can be accessed with minimal paperwork will also help the funds reach those who need it.
We know the government is under enormous pressure, but so are people living with mental health problems, struggling to see a way through the challenges they now face. Taking these small steps now could avoid worsening the impact of the crisis and improve our chances of recovery, for both our financial and mental health.