Nikki Bond, Intern, Money and Mental Health

Money and Mental Health does party conference season

Today sees the close of the 2017 Party Conference season. We attended all three party conferences, seeking to raise awareness of the links between mental health problems and money, and the need for policy change to break this toxic link.

This year as the newest member of our team, I accompanied our Head of External Affairs, Helen Undy to the Labour Party event. This was my first time at conference, and as the first party conference to follow the snap election in June, it promised to be interesting.

A spotlight on mental health

The timing of conference season was also helpful from a mental health perspective. It followed the announcement in July of the government’s ‘NHS expansion plan’ for mental health, committing extra funding to create more posts, and ahead of the publication of the Government review into workplace mental health, a Green Paper on Children and Young People’s mental health and further detail on the review of the Mental Health Act announced in the Conservative Party manifesto . With this increased focus on mental health it was a timely opportunity for us to ensure that the social factors – like debt – which can be both a cause and consequence of poor mental health, are not forgotten. Against this backdrop it proved to be a busy and exciting few days – culminating in the announcement by the Prime Minister of an Independent Review of the Mental Health Act in her keynote speech. We hope that this review will provide the opportunity for a broader discussion of the issues faced by people who are subject to the Act – of which a loss of financial control can be one of the most damaging.

The push to improve local authority collection practices

The team attended a variety of roundtable discussions and fringe events, including a very practical discussion on improving the way local government collects its debts, hosted by the Money Advice Trust and Money Advice Service. Here, it was widely recognised that you are more likely to be in problem debt if you have mental health problems, and that local authorities should adhere to the same standards as the private sector in collecting arrears. At the Liberal Democrats’ conference, the roundtable was attended by some influential council leaders and local Mayors, who committed to looking into their local authority collections practices and agreed that it would be helpful for the guidance on collection practices from the Department of Communities and Local Government to be mandatory.

Credit scores, car finance and point of sale credit

At Labour conference we took part in an interesting breakfast roundtable on vulnerability and  credit scoring; the discussion broadened when John Mann MP explained that the treasury select committee were likely to look into the issue of car finance. For us this was welcome news, and an issue which has been raised multiple times by our Research Community, nearly 4,000 people with lived experience of mental health problems. We would however, encourage the committee to expand the focus of any review to include the whole point of sale credit market, as our research shows that people with mental health problems are substantially more likely to use and to fall into difficulty with these products.

Between these events we were also kindly invited to a roundtable hosted by BACs, on ‘financial inclusion in a cashless society’. There were some interesting discussions about fintech and how, if done well, it can support people experiencing mental health problems and have a positive impact on reducing financial exclusion.

Money on your mind

Finally we supported an event on local action to promote financial wellbeing and mental health at each of the party conferences, hosted by the New Statesman and the Money Advice Service. We were grateful to MP’s Luciana Berger and Norman Lamb, both of whom are members of our advisory board and who represented us at two of these panel discussions, with our interim Director, Simon Crine, speaking at the third. Local councillors were in attendance and contributed to the discussion with some compelling examples of work happening in their locality.

Raising awareness and looking forward

There were many interesting discussions and events scheduled at each of the party conferences, too many for us to attend all of them. That said, we kept the cyclical link between mental health and financial difficulties on the agenda at all the events we attended, and we look forward to what looks to be an exciting and eventful year on these issues.

As for me, it was a new experience and an interesting day, to be a part of an event which was so hopeful and positive about improving services was exciting and infectious. I hope to return next year to see the progress made, and to be a part of the continuing discussions on how we can work to improve services for people with mental health problems.