Brian Semple, Head of External Affairs and Income, Money and Mental Health

General Election 2024: the next government should join up money and mental health care

13 June 2024

  • We’ve set out the five steps we want the next government to take to boost financial inclusion and protect people’s mental health.
  • This blog looks in detail at our first ask: ensuring everyone using mental health services is offered help and advice with money problems.
  • That means making sure that everyone using talking therapies is asked about their finances and offered debt advice if they need it.
  • This would help 27,000 more people each year to recover from mental health problems, and save money for the public purse.
  • We also want the next government to make it easier for people to get Mental Health Crisis Breathing space when they are receiving crisis care.
  • That would make a huge difference in helping people get back on their feet after a mental health crisis, without having to worry about bills, fees and bailiffs coming to the door.

Money and mental health problems are deeply connected. People with mental health problems are three times more likely to be in debt than the rest of the population, while around half of people in problem debt have a mental health problem.

But support services are not geared up to support people with this combination of problems – that needs to change. 

The lack of joined-up support leaves many people at risk of facing entrenched, long-term difficulties with their mental health and finances. That’s harmful to the individuals concerned, and also results in greater strain on NHS services and public finances.

That’s why we’ve called for whoever takes power after the general election to join up support services — and ensure that people get the right help for their finances alongside mental health treatment. This is the first of five steps we want the next government to take to boost financial inclusion and protect people’s mental health.

There are two ways in particular that the next government can better join up money and mental health support:

1. Ensure everyone receiving NHS Talking Therapies support is asked about their financial situation, and referred to money advice if they need it

NHS Talking Therapies is the flagship programme for treating mild to moderate mental health problems. But people getting this help are not routinely asked about their financial situation when they are initially assessed — a huge missed opportunity to help those struggling with their finances to get money advice. 

Our research has shown that asking everyone receiving talking therapies about their finances — and supporting them to get money or debt advice if they need it — could help an extra 27,000 people recover from mental health problems each year. 

It could also save the government and the NHS nearly £150m each year, by reducing demand on health services and helping more people with mental health problems thrive in work.

2. Allow more health professionals to sign off on Mental Health Crisis Breathing Space — and automatically offer this to everyone detained in hospital on a long-term basis

In 2018 we successfully secured a government commitment to introduce the Mental Health Crisis Breathing Space Scheme, which was introduced in 2021. Under this scheme, everyone receiving mental health crisis care should have respite from having to deal with bills, bailiff visits and escalating fees on missed payments. 

But while the then government predicted that 27,000 people would enter Mental Health Crisis Breathing Space in 2021-22, just 3,300 people actually accessed this support in the first 32 months of the scheme.

Expanding the range of health professionals who can sign off on Mental Health Crisis Breathing Space would enable a much larger group of people to access this critical financial safety net. Currently, only a small group of qualified social workers, psychiatric nurses and psychologists can authorise this. The next government should extend this power to mental health nurses and healthcare assistants too. 

It should also automatically offer this scheme to people who are detained in psychiatric hospitals on a long-term basis, who are extremely unlikely to be able to engage with creditors, and often face serious financial problems when they are discharged. This would help around 11,000 more people access this vital financial lifeline each year.

The opportunity for the next government:

By putting in place these relatively small reforms, the next government has a huge opportunity to help more people deal with mental health and debt issues, and to get back on their feet. It can also ease the pressure on NHS services, and boost the wider economy.

The good news is that politicians are taking notice. We were pleased to see the Liberal Democrats echo our call by committing in their general election manifesto to providing better support between talking therapies and debt advice.

We hope whoever forms the next government will act on our calls, and we’d be delighted to help them put this into action. 

Read our five steps the next government should take to boost financial inclusion and protect people’s mental health.