Charity calls for urgent action to support people in secondary mental health care through cost of living crisis

31 March 2022

  • People experiencing mental health crises are being exposed to serious financial harm in secondary mental health services, because of the lack of support available to help them avoid money problems.
  • This is the warning of new research published today by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute charity, which calls for urgent action to support people with mental health problems through the cost of living crisis.
  • In a survey of almost 200 people with experience of secondary mental health care, nearly seven in ten (68%) said they faced a significant drop in income while getting treatment — leaving them struggling to cover essentials and bills while acutely unwell. 
  • Nearly six in ten (58%) respondents were not offered any support with their finances while under the care of secondary mental health services such as hospitals and community health teams.
  • Money and Mental Health is calling on the government and health care providers to step up efforts to protect people in secondary care through the looming cost of living crisis. 
  • This includes taking action to ensure more people in crisis care can access the Mental Health Breathing Space scheme. 
  • It is also calling for financial circumstances to be routinely asked about as part of Care and Treatment plans, health checks and other support measures for people with mental health problems.

The new research by the Money and Money Health Policy Institute, which is published with support from a partnership with the charity Mind and funded by Barclays, examines the financial experiences of people receiving care from secondary mental health services (1) such as psychiatric hospitals and Community Mental Health Teams. 

It shows that the annual average income of people with severe mental health problems is £6,500 lower than the wider population, due to factors such as reduced capacity to work and persistently low rates of benefits.

Moreover, the research shows that many people face significant cuts to their income while being treated under secondary mental health services. In a survey of almost 200 people (2) who have received care from secondary mental health services, the charity found that:

  • Seven in ten (68%) experienced an income drop while receiving support from secondary mental health services
  • Seven in ten (72%) struggled to pay for essentials such as food or heating 
  • Over half (55%) missed a payment for an essential bill, such as mortgage, rent, energy or council tax. 

The research shows that a key factor contributing to these problems is the lack of support in secondary mental health care to help people with money problems, and to prevent them from falling into financial difficulty. For example, eight out of ten (81%) survey respondents said their crisis or relapse prevention plan did not mention finances, while six in ten (58%) were not offered any support with their finances while under the care of secondary mental health services.

Furthermore, the report highlights concerns about the low uptake of existing financial support measures such as the Mental Health Breathing Space scheme, the government’s debt relief scheme for people receiving mental health crisis treatment. While the government predicted that 27,500 people would enter the scheme in 2021-22, official figures show that only 696 people did so in the nine months after it was launched in May last year.

Money and Mental Health is calling for the government and health care providers to step up efforts to prevent financial harm for people receiving secondary mental health care. Recommendations include: 

  • The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) should automatically offer Mental Health Breathing Space to people detained in hospital due to their mental health, to ensure that more people experiencing a mental health crisis can benefit from this vital support.
  • The Money and Pensions Service (the government body responsible for promoting financial capability) should take steps to increase awareness of Mental Health Breathing Space among mental health nurses, social workers and health care assistants. Again, this will be critical in enabling more people with acute mental health problems to access the programme. 
  • DHSC and NHS England should ensure that money worries are embedded in Care and Treatment plans, physical health checks and other support plans. This would see healthcare professionals routinely ask people about their financial position, and signpost and refer people to support services. 
  • The Money and Pensions Service and Health Education England should fund and deliver a money and mental health training module for health care practitioners, to support professionals in secondary mental health settings to ask about financial difficulties. This would ensure health professionals are better equipped to support people experiencing mental health problems with their finances.

Commenting on the research, Helen Undy, Chief Executive of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, said:

“When you’re dealing with serious mental health problems, managing money and keeping up with bills can be an impossible task. Secondary mental health services can play a critical role in helping people in this position avoid serious financial harm, but too often that opportunity is being missed. 

“This urgently needs to change, especially given the looming cost of living crisis which is going to hit people with mental health problems particularly hard. We know that debt makes mental health recovery harder, and we know that people in debt are more likely to have considered suicide. A failure to act now risks a tidal wave of mental health crises that services are not adequately resourced to support with. 

“Part of the answer is making sure that more people can access existing support measures like the Breathing Space debt respite scheme, which could make a huge difference in helping them avoid financial crisis. But we also want to see healthcare professionals routinely asking people with mental health problems about their finances as part of their Care and Treatment plans. The upcoming reform of the Mental Health Act offers a perfect opportunity to embed this as standard practice, and to ensure that fewer people have to face serious financial worries when also dealing with acute mental health problems.”

Vicki Nash, Head of Policy, Campaigns and Public Affairs at Mind, said: 

“We know that poverty and mental health form a vicious circle, with those in poverty more likely to have a mental health problem, and those with a mental health problem more vulnerable to the effects of poverty. Pressures from the cost of living on people’s mental health will likely mean more people seeking help from mental health services – but these services are already stretched to breaking point. 

“The cost-of-living crisis will hit those on the lowest incomes the hardest, including people receiving benefits. Benefits have not been kept in line with inflation meaning that people with mental health problems who rely on benefits, many of who were struggling financially already, will suffer from increased financial distress. People reaching crisis point and facing problem debt need the time, space and support to address both their mental health and financial issues, but we also need to be protecting people from the very real risk of poverty.”


For media enquiries, please contact Brian Semple, Head of External Affairs at Money and Mental Health, on 07595 439 638 / 07935 216 804 or [email protected] 



  1. Secondary mental health care covers general community and hospital mental health care and treatment. Care can be either long or short term, and may encompass crisis treatment, and longer-term recovery and rehabilitation services.
  2. Money and Mental Health surveyed 191 people with lived experience of mental health problems. The survey was carried out between 17 December 2021 and 11 January 2022 and explored the experiences of people who have received care from secondary mental health services and how their finances fared. 
  3. Mental Health Breathing Space (MHBS) is legislation that provides people receiving mental health crisis care respite from debt collection activity and escalating charges. It came into force in May 2021 but has fallen short of reaching its forecast of 27,500 entrances in 2021-22, with just 696 entrances in the first nine months of the scheme. 

About the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute:

The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute is an independent charity set up by Martin Lewis, committed to breaking the link between financial difficulty and mental health problems. We conduct research, develop practical policy solutions and work in partnership with both those providing services and those using them to find what really works.

About Mind:

  • Mind, the mental health charity, provide advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem. They campaign to improve services, raise awareness and promote understanding. They won’t give up until everyone experiencing a mental health problem gets both support and respect.
  • Mind has a confidential information and support line, Mind Infoline, available on 0300 123 3393 (lines open 9am – 6pm, Monday – Friday)
  • For information and support on staying mentally healthy at this time, visit 
  • Mind’s online mental health community Side by Side is a safe space where anyone aged 18 and over with experience of a mental health problem can share their story, connect with others, access Mind’s wider information and resources, and give support in return. Find out more at