Roy Rickhuss CBE, General Secretary, Community

Our money and our mind

7 April 2021

The common adage is that money can’t buy happiness. While that may be true to some extent, there’s a bigger picture that the expression misses.

Money is incredibly important to our overall wellbeing, and absence of money can be severely detrimental to both our physical and mental health. We’re now learning more about this than we’ve ever known before.

The Mental Health and Income Commission was set up to look at the links between our mental health and our finances. Those with common mental health conditions like anxiety or depression have annual incomes just two-thirds that of people without those conditions, equivalent to a gap of £8,400 per person per year.  

One in five say they have faced discrimination in the workplace due to their mental health problem. A mere 15% have ever requested a reasonable adjustment related to their mental health problem, and most were either rejected or only partially met -despite the right to reasonable adjustments being enshrined in law.

The cycle

The Commission found these existing inequalities are being entrenched, and in some cases worsened, by the pandemic. Those who have experienced mental health problems were more likely to have seen a reduction in their income since March 2020 than those who haven’t.

The Commission’s findings showed us a cycle. Those of us with mental health issues can find it harder to earn money, harder to manage spending and harder to ask for help when facing financial difficulty. This can lead to financial difficulties, which cause stress, anxiety and mental health problems. This cycle is vicious, it blights the lives of those caught in it and it needs to be broken.

Surviving the pandemic

In the immediacy, we need the government to intervene to protect those with mental health problems at work. For at least the duration of the pandemic the government must introduce a right to flexible working, ensuring that people do not find themselves forced into unsafe environments.

They need to raise and expand eligibility for Statutory Sick Pay and suspend benefits conditionality for those out of work due to ill-health – ensuring that nobody has to choose between their health and their income. We need employers to support the mental health and incomes of staff while furloughed and when they return.

Mental health first aid training should be provided to all line managers, enabling them to support their direct reports effectively. Flexible roles and working patterns should also be embraced to help new and existing employees work in ways suited to their needs.

Removing barriers

Longer term, there needs to be a concerted effort to tackle the barriers to jobs and work progression that many people with mental health problems face.

It should be a requirement for all managers to have undertaken practical mental health training – ensuring fairer recruitment and progression in the workplace. Rather than employees having to seek out reasonable adjustments – something we know is challenging and happens very rarely – a list of reasonable adjustments should be proactively offered to staff.

The government must make the reporting of the mental health pay gap at larger organisations mandatory. This data should be broken down by gender and race to show if certain groups are being disproportionately impacted.

Our benefits system should be easier and less distressing for people with mental health issues to navigate, with significantly more mental health training given to Department for Work and Pensions staff.

The future

It’s important for everyone to know that support is out there for them. At Community, we’ve spent the last year making sure that workers’ rights are protected during the pandemic and our members mental health is supported.

In the last twelve months we’ve been campaigning for more flexible working and on the unequal impacts of Coronavirus on those with disabilities. We published a mental health guide to support our members during this crisis, and established a Member Support Fund for people who may be struggling financially as a result of the pandemic.

As a society, we’ve thankfully come a long way in the way we understand and talk about mental health problems. Yet the vicious cycle impacting people with mental health issues and their finances continues. It’s time for policymaking to catch up, and to finally put an end to it.