How coronavirus has affected the income of people with mental health problems
16 June 2020
Our new report, Income in crisis, launched today, is the first in a series, exploring the links between mental health problems and the income people receive. It explores how the coronavirus crisis has impacted the income and living standards of people with mental health problems and provides evidence on how many people with experience of mental health problems were already in a financially precarious position before the crisis hit.
300,000 people with a long-term mental health condition lose their job each year. In addition to falling out of work, people with mental health problems are also overrepresented in low paid, part-time and temporary employment. Our research sets out the just how stark this picture is; the effect of these employment issues on incomes and on people’s ability to withstand income shocks.
Results from nationally representative polling found that people who have experienced mental health problems have an average lower household income of £5,700 per year than those without mental health problems. Furthermore, nearly two in five Research Community survey respondents estimated their average household income to be less than £1000 a month.
Living on these consistently lower incomes mean that people with experience of mental health problems are likely to be more financially fragile and exposed to income shocks — such as being furloughed, having to rely on Universal Credit or being sanctioned. Over a third of Research Community respondents to our survey reported that their income was not usually enough to meet the costs of their everyday outgoings.
Faced with not even having enough money to get by, unsurprisingly people struggled to put money aside for a rainy day too. Over two-thirds of Research Community participants reported they could not afford to regularly save.
“My income has remained the same during the coronavirus outbreak. However, I would feel more secure if I had savings in the bank to cover extra costs or increases in prices associated with lockdown, food shopping and alternatives to having to use public transport. I have always found it difficult to save money for emergencies due to limited income and rising costs.” – Expert by experience
This financial insecurity is deep-seated too. Almost one in three people with experience of mental health problems reported that they couldn’t make ends meet for longer than a month if they lost their main source of income. This was twice the proportion among those who have never experienced a mental health problem. These levels of financial fragility expose people to greater financial harm.
Cutting back to make ends meet in the face of an income drop
Living in precarity for sustained periods means that people with experience of mental health problems are likely to have less of a safety net to fall back on to see them through the crisis.
In the face of a reduction in income, we all expect to cut back, forgo luxuries and treats, and where possible draw on savings. But for people with mental health problems, the cutbacks can have far more drastic and severe consequences. We found that one in three people with experience of mental health problems who had an income drop due to the crisis had cut back on essentials such as food or heating.
“Initially I cut down a lot on how much food I ate. Cut to one meal a day. But it wasn’t good for my mental health at all.” – Expert by experience
People with mental health problems are also more likely to have missed debt repayments due to drops in income caused by the pandemic. Of those with experience of mental health problems, one in ten had missed a debt repayment compared to less than one in twenty who had never experienced a mental health problem.
The Mental Health and Income Commission
Our report provides evidence on the levels of precarity people with experience of mental health problems face, not only at a time of global crisis but consistently due to lower incomes and limited ability to build up financial resilience.
That’s why today, we’re launching the Mental Health and Income Commission, considering how we can address these inequalities and ensure that people with mental health problems are not systematically disadvantaged in withstanding an income shock.