Conor D’Arcy, Head of Research and Policy, Money and Mental Health.

Closing the mental health income gap

7 September 2020 

Working together to solve big problems

One of the lessons of the pandemic is how powerful collective action can be. There have been plenty of rows too but, across a range of fields, people have come together to respond to new challenges. The crisis has also provided a reminder of the many long-standing issues that still need collaboration to deliver change. And, top of our list at Money and Mental Health, is the mental health income gap. 

Our initial analysis found that annual incomes for people with mental health problems are £5,700 lower on average than for those without. That’s leaving people with experience of poor mental health in a much more precarious position when times get tough. If they lost their main income source, people with mental health problems are three times more likely to run out of money in a week than the rest of the population.

Like most big problems – and this is a huge one, affecting millions of people – there isn’t an easy solution. So, to help us find the way towards a UK in which having a mental health problem doesn’t mean you’re more likely to have a low income, we’ve established the Mental Health and Income Commission.

Drawing on expertise from employers, unions, charities, politics and beyond

The Commissioners – the full list is here – are drawn from a variety of organisations and backgrounds. What they share is a commitment to narrowing the income gap faced by people with mental health problems. With their help, we’ll be evaluating its key drivers. While the current crisis provides vital context and the recommendations the Commission make will be informed by the unfortunate reality of difficult years ahead, our research illustrates that the challenges are anything but novel.

Some of those challenges are rooted in the labour market. To unpick those, we have representatives from the Confederation of British Industry, the British Chambers of Commerce, and Community trade union. Others originate in the benefit system, which we’ll explore with experts from Policy in Practice and Mind. We’re also keenly aware that people with mental health problems are not a monolithic group. To dig into those important differences and intersections, we’ll be drawing on expertise from Black Thrive and the Health Foundation. 

And while there are powerful levers beyond Westminster, we’ll be utilising the experience of members of the Houses of Parliament and former political advisers to help the Commission’s ideas lead to real change. We’re also delighted to have lived experience of mental health problems within the Commission, all ably supported by the team at Money and Mental Health.

The road ahead

The Commission will be meeting again later this month, ahead of the launch of our second paper. That report will look at the long-term factors that have led to the current situation and paints a stark picture of the challenge. After that, we’ll be working closely with the Commissioners and other stakeholders to draw up a set of ambitious but practical policies that could help to close the gap and reduce the excess fragility that people with mental health problems face. As we do that, we’ll be collaborating with our Research Community, a group of 5,000 people (as of April 2021) with lived experience of mental health problems, to ensure the ideas we develop really meet their needs and expectations. 

With an issue as a big as this, we’re under no illusions of the hard work that’s ahead. But with a fantastic group of Commissioners working together, we’re well-placed to develop policy solutions to boost the living standards of people with mental health problems.