Why mental health still matters for this year’s Budget
With one in four people experiencing a mental health problem in any given year, Mind's Budget asks are not for a small sub-section of society but for a large number of us, writes Sophie Corlett, Director of External Relations.
Every year organisations like Mind vie for a piece of the pie when the Chancellor announces the Budget, hoping that tireless campaigning hasn’t fallen on deaf ears and the most pressing issues in our sector aren’t ignored. This year is no different. We are still committed to making sure the Government addresses the worst struggles people with mental health problems in our society face – from poor inpatient care, to a punitive benefits system – and that the necessary funding is allocated to do this.
And yet this year is very different. We acknowledge the unprecedented extra pressure that coronavirus will put on expenditure and agree that it is only right that resource is funnelled into tackling it. However, ongoing issues for people with mental health problems will not go away because of it and many of them become even more urgent in this context. With one in four people experiencing a mental health problem in any given year, our Budget asks are not for a small sub-section of society but for a large number of us.
So what is Mind calling for in this year’s Budget to improve the lives of people with mental health problems?
Mind has long been calling for urgent improvements to be made to mental health buildings. As things stand, people with mental health problems are being treated in some of the worst infrastructure in the NHS.
Long-neglected NHS mental health hospitals and other buildings are undermining people’s recovery and putting them at risk of suicide. The continued use of mixed sex and dormitory wards also puts people in danger of sexual assault, while the design of buildings fail to stop people taking their own lives.
It is unacceptable for people with mental health problems to be treated in inadequate and often dangerous infrastructure. So it is still vital that the Government allocates enough funding to bring the mental health estate into the 21st century.
Too often, staff are having to counteract the risk that poor buildings pose. With the NHS planning for potential staff sickness, it is crucial that hospitals are still safe spaces for people. Well-designed buildings that provided therapeutic environments alleviate the pressure on staff to keep people safe.
Demand on the NHS has steadily been increasing, particularly in mental health services, and we have seen stressed staff leaving in droves. Coronavirus has brought this into sharp focus, with mental health services that are already stretched having to work out how to function with potential staff sickness adding to the strain.
The way the NHS currently approaches recruitment is a false economy. There is a lack of proper planning and too many obstacles for those already in the workforce to be able to work efficiently.
The NHS has laid out plans to meet the growing need and we have heard the Government commit to recruiting more staff. However, there must be funding not only to recruit staff but to train them adequately. The Government must back up its positive rhetoric around recruitment with the sufficient funding.
Statutory Sick Pay
We know that a three-day wait for statutory sick pay has led people to avoid taking time off that they need to properly look after themselves. The Government recently recognised how harmful this wait can be and has temporarily lifted it for those needing to self-isolate after being exposed to coronavirus. Now we must to see the three-day wait permanently lifted for everyone.
For a long time, people with mental health problems have also been forced to return to work full-time when they are still too unwell because the Statutory Sick Pay system doesn’t allow for a phased return to work. As a result, many people face the impossible choice of an immediate return to full-time work or face destitution.
The current situation is short term thinking; too many people are unable to take off the time they need, are returning to work when unwell, relapsing and needing more time off, or even falling out of work altogether. We expect the Government to commit in its Budget to improving Statutory Sick Pay for everyone.
Thousands of people with mental health problems rely on the benefits system to support them. Benefits should be there to help anyone who needs them to help them get back on their feet and keep them from poverty in the meantime.
But the roll-out of Universal Credit has done the opposite. It has led to fear and anxiety for many people with mental health problems and has actually set them back. From the draconian assessment processes, which ask people to recount trauma and even suicide attempts, to having to wait five weeks for the first payment, the system currently just doesn’t work and drags people with mental health problems into poverty. The whole process is punitive on our most vulnerable citizens and from the Government’s point of view, simply self-defeating. There is a desperate need for reform and independent oversight.
It’s vital the Government commits to ensuring our benefits system is fit for purpose. We need to see an end to sanctions for people with mental health problems and funding for independent regulation of the Department for Work and Pensions.