Katrina Gaffney, External Affairs Officer, Money and Mental Health

3 acts of kindness we want to see this Mental Health Awareness week

18 May 2020

Kindness is a fitting theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness week. At a time when it feels particularly difficult to be optimistic, small acts of kindness by individuals all over the country –  from delivering free meals to NHS staff, to sharing baked goods with neighbours – can give us a sense of hope. But while individual acts of kindness are undoubtedly important right now, it equally feels necessary to think about how we can imbue the society and systems we all rely on with kindness too. 

At Money and Mental Health, even our most technical policy recommendations are ultimately underpinned by a desire to make the world a kinder place. That’s why this Mental Health Awareness week, we’re sharing the acts of kindness we want to see from the government and essential services firms to help people during the current crisis and beyond – think of this as our own brand of constructive kindness.

Ensure people are receiving the financial support they need

To treat people kindly is to give them support when they need it – that’s why we want the government to make changes to the benefits system to better support people facing financial difficulty. Since the coronavirus outbreak began, there have been lots of changes to the benefits system for the better, but the government could still go further to protect people. It is particularly important that the DWP offer additional support to vulnerable claimants who are struggling to access the benefits system remotely. We also want to see an end to the five week wait by making advance Universal Credit payments grants instead of loans. There needs to be kindness in the seams of the benefits system if we are to support everybody through this pandemic and beyond. Find out more about the changes we want to see to the benefits system here.

Support people in distress to access essential services

For many people experiencing distress, anxiety or other mental health problems, accessing essential services (such as banks, broadband and energy) can be a real challenge. Common symptoms of mental health problems can mean people struggle to do things like remembering passwords, and many feel anxiety about making phone calls. We want firms to treat their customers with kindness and fairness during the pandemic – that’s why we developed our urgent Covid-19 Customer Support Standards. This practical guidance shows how firms can support people without spending a lot on extra resources, and that kindness can be found in the little details – such as writing to your customers to let them know about the support you currently offer. Find out more about our Covid-19 Customer Support Standards here.

Stop the ‘Debt Threat’ letters

People in problem debt also need to be treated with greater compassion and kindness. This is especially important when we know that half of people in problem debt have a mental health problem. Currently, people who fall behind on their debts receive letters from creditors which can be both confusing and intimidating, which leave them feeling there’s no way out of their situation.

The content of these letters is prescribed in a piece of legislation in the Consumer Credit Act and we want the government to take swift action to change it – especially with millions of people facing financial hardship as a result of the coronavirus crisis. It’s vital that the rules around these letters are changed quickly, to make these letters more supportive and less intimidating, and to offer better signposting to sources of support.

You can show kindness this week by signing our petition calling on the government to Stop the Debt threats.