Guest Blogger: Dr Iris Elliott, Head of Policy and Research for the Mental Health Foundation

Why mental health is central to solving UK poverty

A toxic relationship


The UK is the world’s sixth largest economy, and yet today approximately one in five people are living here in poverty. We also know that one in four people are likely to experience a mental health problem in any given year. Poverty and Mental Health are two of the defining issues of our time, and it is essential that we dissect the relationship between the two, developing our understanding and acting on what we uncover.

The emerging theme in the growing body of evidence tells us that the relationship between mental health and poverty is symbiotic; poverty increases the risk of mental health problems and mental health problems can lead people into poverty.


What do we know?
This summer the Mental Health Foundation published ‘Poverty and Mental Health’, a policy review to inform the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s UK Anti-Poverty Strategy, published this week. In it, we explore the dynamics of the relationship between mental health and poverty. In recognition of the complexity of these issues, the review is unapologetically detailed and written to be a substantial resource for anyone wanting to address them. It considers what can be done across government and services including health, education, social care, employment and advice.

The review highlights that though the challenge is a big one, it is by no means insurmountable. By understanding the relationship between mental ill-health and poverty, governments and financial organisations across the UK can work to address them.


Spending, income and stigma
A key characteristic in this harmful relationship as highlighted by Money and Mental Health, is the propensity of people in periods of poor mental health to spend more (crisis spending). This can result in loss of savings, sometimes leading people into debt crisis and situations where they are unable to meet their basic needs.

Income is crucial in protecting individuals and families from falling into poverty and supporting them to move out of it. Yet, periods of poor mental health can disrupt education, training and entry into and progression within work. This means that people do not fulfil their earning and wider potential. People with mental health problems can end up employed in jobs that are low paid, insecure and undermine their mental health and wellbeing.

Further compounding issues of financial and job security, people experiencing mental health problems may also face stigma and discrimination in the workplace. The Equality and human Rights Commission reported earlier this month a significant pay gap (42%) for people who experience depression and panic attacks. For example, men with anxiety or depression are paid only 74p for every pound earned by those who do not have these mental health problems. For men with phobias or panic disorders, that figure goes down to 58p.


Time to act
The mental health impact of poverty is so profound, pervasive and toxic for individuals, families and communities that it is vital that we come together as a society to take urgent action. A solid evidence base is emerging, and it’s time to translate these new insights into policy at a national, devolved and local level.


Find out more:

Read the Mental Health Foundation report, Poverty and Mental Health, here

Read the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report, We Can Solve Poverty in the UK, here

Get involved and make a difference here