Rachel Fergusson, External Affairs Assistant, Money and Mental Health Policy Institute
Four takeaways from the Queen's Speech
12 May 2022
This week the government delivered its Queen’s speech, setting out its legislative agenda for the next parliamentary session, and promising to prioritise tackling the cost of living crisis. But despite that rhetoric, the absence of a strategy to lighten the burden facing households was a glaring hole in the government’s plans.
This lack of action on rising costs was the main takeaway from the speech. But buried in the list of upcoming Bills, there were some important highlights. They included a win for campaigners on protecting access to cash, support for scam victims and a clamp down on subscription traps.
We’ve taken a look at the important takeaways from the Queen’s speech, and some key areas where the government can prioritise money and mental health issues in its legislative plans:
Not enough on the cost of living
Everyday, there’s more and more evidence of the devastating ways the rising cost of living is impacting people across the country. The National Institute of Economic and Social Research reported yesterday that 250,000 households face ‘destitution’ unless immediate action is taken by the government.
And this week we published research which showed the crisis was not only taking a toll on people’s finances, but was having a serious impact on their mental health too. It showed that 59% of adults in the UK said the cost of living has had a negative impact on their mental health – with one in five saying they feel ‘unable to cope’ with rising costs.
Despite the government’s rhetoric that it’s doing all it can to support people through the crisis, there was little action on that promise in the Queen’s speech. The Prime Minister has since hinted there was “more to say” on the cost of living in the coming days. But there is little time to waste. The government must act now to prevent further damage to people’s finances, and stop the crisis from becoming a mental health one too.
Access to cash and better protection for scam victims
One positive that came from the speech was the government’s commitment to new legislation protecting access to cash. This is a big win for Which?’s longstanding campaign (which we’ve supported) to ensure that access to and use of cash is protected for those who need it.
This is particularly important for vulnerable groups, including people with mental health problems. Our research showed many people with mental health problems prefer to use cash over other payment methods, helping them to budget and stay in control of their spending.
The same Bill also includes new measures to protect scam victims by reimbursing those who have lost out to bank transfer scams. This is welcome news given the huge psychological and financial toll people experience as a result of these types of scams.
Tightening the rules around subscription traps
We are also delighted to see plans to tighten regulation around subscriptions – which are often designed to trap customers by making it difficult for them to cancel. Our past research has shown people with mental health problems are more likely to sign up for subscriptions and face difficulties when trying to unsubscribe, making it easy for costs to rack up. The new Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill will require businesses to provide clear information to consumers and send them reminders before their subscriptions automatically renew.
Mental Health Act Reform: a key opportunity
The Queen’s speech reinstated the government’s commitment to reforming the Mental Health Act, which will make important changes around care and support for patients with mental health problems.
Reform of the Act is long overdue, but it also represents a crucial opportunity to help break the vicious cycle of mental health and financial problems. As part of this reform, we’ve called for the Department of Health and Social Care to ensure that money worries are embedded in Care and Treatment plans, and routinely asked about by health professionals so they can signpost support.
Overall, the Queen’s speech did bring some important progress which will benefit people whose mental health makes it difficult for them to manage their finances. But the rising cost of living is the most urgent problem facing people right now – and the government’s failure to offer more support is creating unmanageable pressures. It must act now to mitigate the damage to people’s finances, and their mental health too.