As a professional psychologist I write to you as my local member of parliament on a matter of urgency. As professionals working with some of the most vulnerable members of society we are well placed to comment on the impacts of recent economic policies of austerity.
Impact on mental health services
Dangerous levels of cuts to mental health services will have long term damaging impacts on people experiencing mental health problems.
- The BBC has revealed that more than two-thirds of mental health trusts are reporting a total drop in real-term spending of 2.3 per cent since 2011/12, and ten trusts are projecting further cuts next year.
- Referrals to mental health teams have increased, on average, by 16 per cent since 2011/12.
- More than eight in 10 GPs now believe that their local mental health teams cannot cope with mental health caseloads, and nearly half said that the situation in their area had got even worse in the past 12 months.
- The Mental health Foundation surveyed 300 GPs across the UK. 77% of the GPs believed they had seen an increase in patients with mental health problems in the last four years.
- In these constrained funding environments, services have become more reactive, crisis-driven, and less preventative. There has been a significant drop in voluntary admissions to hospital, for instance.
- Patient approval rates of the NHS fell from an historic high of 70% in 2010 to 58% in 2012, following the impact of the Health and Social Care Act.
- This approach is in direct contrast to the post-WW2 government who founded the NHS despite the far more extreme financial constraints of a post-war economy. As Aneurin Bevin said: “We ought to take pride in the fact that, despite our financial and economic anxieties, we are still able to do the most civilised thing in the world – put the welfare of the sick in front of every other consideration”
Psychological impact of austerity
Recent austerity policies have damaging social effects which increase levels of mental health problems and distress overall. In combination with the cuts to mental health services, this creates a serious mental health crisis in our society. Mental health problems already account for the largest portion of GP visits, as well as the majority of days lost to sickness in the UK. Current austerity policies will only increase these problems.
- Suicide rates have increased since the beginning of austerity, following a twenty year decreasing trend.
- 1 million more anti-depressant prescriptions were administered in 2010 than two years previously.
- Poverty increases the risk of mental health problems. Being born into poverty in a disadvantaged area increases the risk of schizophrenia eightfold. Austerity measures have increased the numbers of people in the UK living in poverty.
- Unicef estimates that just over 1 in 4 children in the UK now live in poverty an increase of 1.6% on 2008. The number of children living in severe material deprivation has nearly doubled, from 7% to 12%.
- Reliance on food banks has increased 22 fold since the beginning of austerity policies in 2010, according to the Trussell Trust, who served nearly 1 million people in 2013/14.
- Austerity policies have impacted the most vulnerable people most harshly, and those who have the least power to speak.
- Despite the financial crisis, the richest in the UK have retained their share of income and wealth. The UK is ranked 4th most unequal in terms of income in the OECD countries. Inequality increases mental health problems. Higher inequality in a country is related to higher levels of diagnosed mental health problems, and lower levels of child wellbeing, as measured by UNICEF.
- Young people have been most affected by increased benefit sanctions, according to the Rowntree Trust, while youth unemployment has risen since 2010.
- The number of families living in temporary B&B housing has trebled in three years, along with an increased in homelessness. Insecure housing is directly related to increased mental health problems.
- Together these policies create a mental health time bomb. These policies increase distress in people denied a safety net during times of financial crisis. Also, children and young people are being placed in harsh conditions which will increase their likelihood of developing mental health problems in the future.
It is for the reasons above that I call on you as my elected member of Parliament to do everything in your power to resist any further cuts, scapegoating and austerity policies. Specifically I would like to ask you:
- How do you respond to the concerns above about the damaging mental health impact of austerity?
- What concrete steps will you take to redress some of this damage both in our locality and in Parliament?
- How will your party’s policies address these concerns in future policy in the run up to the General Election?
With best wishes,