Helen Undy, Head of External Affairs, Money and Mental Health

Government priorities: Brexit, Brexit and… money and mental health?

The context of today’s Queens’ speech left few optimistic about the prospects for an exciting legislative programme in the coming two years. With the government still lacking a majority and Brexit negotiations and the Repeal Bill taking up precious parliamentary time and high-level government resource, the appetite for embarking on ambitious new legislative projects is, understandably, a little more muted than in previous parliaments.

However, despite this, the speech actually sets out a programme of work – in both legislation and policy – which puts money and mental health at its heart. With a government in a position to make so few commitments, we are encouraged that many of our top priorities made it onto the bill.

What’s included on mental health

First, a review of mental health legislation. This appears to stop short of the Mental Health Treatment Bill that was rumoured, but instead commits to working ‘towards a new Mental Health Act’, reviewing the current legislative landscape and the implementation of the Act on the ground. Given the constraints on parliamentary time to allow for full scrutiny of new legislation, this may be a sensible move. We’re pleased to see that mental health remains so high on the government’s agenda, and welcome the opportunity to feed into discussions on issues like discrimination, the involvement of family and carers and workplace mental health – an issue that we raised in our recent research report on this topic.

We were also pleased to see a pre-election commitment from Theresa May to continue with the review of the Debt and Mental Health Evidence Form that we are conducting with the government, and hope that righting this injustice remains high on the political agenda. In any work on the mental health ‘legislative landscape’, as the speech describes it, we’ll be campaigning to ensure that people’s mental health is considered in the context of their wider lives – including financial difficulty, which can be both a precursor to and a consequence of mental health crisis.

What’s included on money

The speech today also announced a Green Paper on consumer markets, stating that the Government is going to ‘closely examine markets which are not working fairly for consumers, and is prepared to act where necessary.’ This is excellent news for consumers with mental health problems who, as our research has demonstrated, often get a poor deal as they are more likely to struggle with navigating complex markets and getting the best deals. In particular, we are delighted that the government has responded to our work on the ‘subscription trap’, promising steps to tackle this in the Green Paper.

Overall, we are pleased to see the attention given to simplifying complex markets and advice services for vulnerable consumers. Simplifying billing, making switching more straightforward and creating a single body for money, debt and pensions advice will make it easier for consumers who struggle, particularly those with mental health problems, to get a better deal and find the support they need.

Next steps

We trust that the government will want to consult widely on any proposed changes to mental health or consumer legislation – and we welcome the opportunity to take part in these conversations. Our research programme will bring essential insights about the link between these two areas of work, and we are excited about the opportunity to input these into the debate.

Parliamentary time will be a precious commodity in the coming two years, so it’s extremely encouraging that some of our top priorities have made it onto today’s vellum to do list. We’ll be working hard to ensure that this new parliament does all it can to help us tackle the toxic relationship between mental health problems and financial difficulty. Today was an encouraging step in the right direction.