Katie Alpin, Interim Chief Executive, Money and Mental Health
30 October 2020
Next week our permanent CEO, Helen Undy, will return from maternity leave, and after four and a half years I’m moving on from Money and Mental Health. I’m very sad to be leaving the team, but so pleased with all that we have achieved – and especially with the difference we’ve been able to make for people with mental health problems over the last eight months, through the pandemic.
I certainly wasn’t expecting that within my first six weeks in the job, I’d be sending the whole team home. I have barely seen any of them in person since. 2020 has brought a range of challenges that none of us would have anticipated. But it’s also emphasised Money and Mental Health’s strengths.
Listening to lived experience
The first thing I am proud of building at Money and Mental Health is our incredible Research Community – the group of 5,000 people (as of April 2021) with lived experience of mental health problems who sit at the heart of everything that we do. These generous, courageous people have been ever more invaluable to us over the last eight months – as the world changed quickly, being able to hear directly from people experiencing poor mental health, and the financial challenges that come with it, helped us identify the problems and ask policy-makers to help at top speed. Having our research and campaigns grounded in people’s everyday experience shows the human cost behind technical policy challenges, helps us cut across crowded political agendas and makes sure that when we do change policy, it makes a real difference.
And among the challenges, 2020 has brought some benefits too. I’m really pleased that in transforming our in-person policy discussions into webinars, we’ve been able to invite Research Community members to join the conversation without needing to traipse into central London. You can catch up on all our recent events online, from the comfort of home.
Making real change
It has felt at times over the last eight months like there is only bad news. But working at Money and Mental Health is a lesson in the value of focused change. With concerns growing about the number of people who will face problem debt this winter and beyond, we secured vital changes to the most distressing debt threat letters. And, as a result of our research and campaigning, from spring next year everyone receiving treatment for a mental health crisis in England and Wales will be offered respite from their debts, stopping fees, charges and interest from stacking up, and making sure nobody needs to come home from hospital to find a court summons on the doormat, or face bailiffs while being cared for by a crisis team at home. With more people experiencing mental health problems, sadly this provision is needed more than ever.
While winning changes like these from the government can take time, and progress can feel halting, we’ve also seen a step change in the standards of service that financial and telecoms service providers are expected to offer to people with mental health problems. These should mean that in future, people who struggle to use the telephone while unwell, for instance, shouldn’t be stuck without a way to get help when things go wrong with their bank or broadband.
None of these changes in isolation will break the toxic link between mental health problems and financial difficulty. But over time, these changes will add up.
Money and Mental Health is able to make this change happen because we work with the widest possible set of decision-makers – not just national government, but the NHS, regulators and even directly with essential services firms. When there’s an opportunity and appetite to break the links between financial difficulty and mental health problems, we’re here to help.
Looking after each other
None of this would be possible without Money and Mental Health’s incredible team. Though many of the team have experienced their own challenges through lockdown, the consistent support they have shown for each other, our Research Community and all people with mental health problems, is remarkable.
On those dark days in March, the knowledge that we make even a small difference was a valuable source of hope, and in coming together as a team to work towards that we’ve found new strength, despite the physical distance. The dedication and focus of the team to make change, however we can, makes Money and Mental Health both effective, and a wonderful place to work. I’ll miss it, but can’t wait to see what the team, and all our amazing supporters, achieve together next.