The boss of a leading North East mental health charity has slammed the Government’s response to rising energy bills as “plainly inadequate” and said tighter finances and more people falling into poverty would exacerbate the mental health crisis.
With energy bills rising – and set to jump by an average of almost £700 a household later in the year – Adam Crampsie, chief exec at Mental Health Concern, has highlighted the connection between mental illness and financial hardship.
Last week, the Government announced plans for a £350 boost for households in hope of reducing the impact of higher bills, but Adam said this would solve the problem.
He said: “We know that people in the lowest 20% income bracket in Britain are two to three times more likely to develop mental health problems than those in the highest.
“We see this every day, as the mental ill-health of many of the people who use our crisis services is directly linked to financial hardship, unstable housing, and debt.
“Increasing inflation, falling incomes, and energy bills surging by an enormous £693 per year will push even more people into poverty and mental health crises.”
From October, every household will get £200 off their bills with those in council tax bands A to D will get a further £150 rebate. The discount is then to be repaid in £40 chunks from 2023 – when the Government think wholesale gas prices will fall.
But Adam said this was far from enough to help the most in need.
“The Government is failing them,” he said.
“The support announced by the Chancellor is plainly inadequate. It will leave thousands of people, who are already in desperate financial hardship, facing impossible choices about how to cope.
“We call on the Government to do much, much more to support vulnerable people in this country, many of whom are already locked in a spiral of debt and distress.”
“We will be reaching out to our local MPs to convey our profound concern that more must be done, and to offer our help and expertise wherever it is needed.
“Nobody should have to struggle alone with their mental health. We’re here to make sure they don’t.”
In January, Mark Adams – chief officer of the Newcastle Gateshead NHS Clinical Commissioning Group – also raised f ears about the impact of inflation on people’s mental health in the city.
He said: “We know that there’s been very significant increases in mental health issues for people during Covid. And potentially these kinds of pressures on families can only add to those things – which is a real concern.”
Speaking about the impact of financial pressure on mental health, Ashley Price, health and wellbeing manager at the Newcastle United Foundation, added: “Most people know on some level just how stressful it can be to seriously worry about money. As the Foundation we try to to make sure that the majority of work helps those in deprived areas of the community.”
She said in the coming weeks and months, the team would hope to continue to make a difference there, but added: “Of course if you’re struggling with your finances that has a real impact on your mental health. And it may be that you can’t change your circumstances or what you’re paid, but we can try to help people manage.”
Ashley explained the impact of serious stress could lead mental health issues to fuel physical ones – and vice versa.
“If you’re incredibly worried and stressed you may struggle to eat. You might have stomach issues. And if you can’t eat, you often can’t sleep. If your financial worries already mean you’re struggling to put food on the table, then to see bills go up, it’s not going to make things easier.
“It’s probably going to have an impact on relationships – if you’re stressed you’re likely to be more irritable, and then you might have kids who you’re unable to get that chocolate bar for.”
The Foundation works with people struggling with their mental health around the region with programmes such as walking football and its Be A Game-Changer campaign helping people to access support.
Announcing the £9.1bn package of measures, Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: “Right now, I know the number one issue on people’s minds is the rising cost of living.
“That’s why the Government is stepping in with direct support that will help around 28 million households with their rising energy costs over the next year.”
The Prime Minister – Boris Johnson – added that the Government “recognises the real and growing concerns people have about the cost of living” and was taking action.
It said this money would “help cut fuel bills for social housing tenants and deliver warmer homes”.
Lord Callanan – a minister in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and a former Gateshead councillor – said: “The UK has a strong track record in improving the energy performance of its homes and this funding will continue that as we deliver huge benefits for social housing residents – ensuring they keep more of their cash.”