Becca Stacey, Senior Research Officer, Money and Mental Health

Tackling mental health inequalities should be a central part of “Levelling Up”

4 February 2022

This week the government published its long awaited white paper on “Levelling Up”, through which it aims to tackle regional inequalities and increase opportunities across the UK.

The UK’s regional inequalities are stark, and it is vital that meaningful investment and action is taken to tackle this. But just focusing on the inequalities that exist between regions only goes so far, and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities’ new white paper lacks an additional acknowledgement and understanding of the disparities that exist between people living within regions. If the government is to ensure that levelling up is about building communities that can thrive, it needs to focus more specifically on who within a region is being left behind, and take targeted action that goes beyond infrastructure to address this.

People with mental health problems are being left behind

We know that those of us with a mental health problem are more likely to be experiencing financial difficulty. Our research shows that 25% of people with mental health problems have no savings that could be used for an urgent or emergency expense, compared to 18% of people without a mental health problem. This disparity feeds into our striking finding that half of people in problem debt also have a mental health problem. In regions where people are experiencing high levels of financial difficulty, the situation is likely to be worse for people with mental health problems. 

We urge the government to go further and consider not just what regions need investing in, but who exactly in these regions needs extra support, and therefore implement more targeted interventions to suit. 

One of the key disparities the white paper fails to address is the fact that, as our research shows, people with mental health problems are more likely to be on a low income than people without mental health problems. Our research has found that people with mental health problems have typical incomes that are thousands of pounds lower than those of people without those conditions. A big reason for this is the inadequacy of benefit rates, and the fact that people with mental health problems are more likely to be in lower paid jobs, and less likely to be in full time work due to their mental health placing limits on the amount of hours they can do. This white paper would have benefitted from having more targeted measures to address this. That is particularly true of the rather broad-brush ‘In-Work Progression’ proposal which aims to help people on low incomes more generally address barriers to better employment opportunities.

Beyond building infrastructure

A greater focus on the inequalities people with mental health problems face would also ensure levelling up is as much about investing in people and building communities that can thrive, as well as investing in infrastructure. The white paper states that taken together, its missions will help achieve the overarching ambition of improving wellbeing in every area of the UK by 2030.

For wellbeing to be achieved, the government needs to consider how it can further invest in the people living in a region so that everyone is supported to lead a happy and fulfilling life. Addressing the links between having a mental health problem and experiencing financial difficulty is a vital part of that. 

Looking ahead

We hope that as the government implements its levelling up programme, it takes the time to interrogate who specifically within a region is being left behind, and provides support that speaks to that and is as much focused on those people, as the infrastructure that surrounds them. At the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, we will be working to identify areas across the UK where people with mental health problems are particularly disadvantaged financially, and what measures must be taken to address this. 

If you would like to get involved in our work on mental health and levelling up, join our Research Community of experts by experience.