Written by Adam Jones, UKCP Policy and Advocacy Officer
This week, the Chancellor Philip Hammond delivered his Spring Statement to the House of Commons. He reflected on growth and public finance projections, and confirmed that any spending increases will not be announced until the Budget. This seemingly lived up to the Statement’s low-key billing.
Indeed, the Chancellor’s firm defence of the Government’s approach to public spending since 2010 – and his reluctance to make any fresh commitments – make this week’s statement an act of political continuity.
However, where mental health is concerned, the idea that continuity is a non-event can – and should – be challenged.
Despite the brilliant campaigns, the breakthrough research and the hard work of practitioners across the sector, the evidence suggests we are in a crisis.
Only 1 in 8 adults in England with a mental health problem are receiving treatment, and the most common form of treatment is medication – with anti-depressant prescriptions at record levels. There has been a steep rise in the number of people attending A&E in mental health crisis. There has been an alarming rise in self-harm among our children and young people. I could go on.
In the face of a crisis, we should be aiming higher than continuity.
Mental health services across the board have suffered in the wake of pressures on public spending that followed the 2007-8 financial crisis.
The squeeze on NHS resources and cuts to local authority budgets – in the absence of ring-fencing – have impacted enormously on those in need.
Given the rapidly rising demand for services, it is clear that a bolder strategy is required. New initiatives focused on addressing mental health problems, such as those laid out in the Government’s recent Green Paper on Children and Young People’s Mental Health, are welcome, but there is undoubtedly scope for greater ambition.
At UKCP, we see this clearly. We know that our diverse and hugely talented members are significantly under-utilised. The overwhelming majority of adults and children with mental health issues are still unable to access psychotherapy or psychotherapeutic counselling.
We therefore need to address the political argument head-on.
The Chancellor’s justification for spending restraint is based on the idea that any increases in spending will add to the national debt, meaning more public money will have to be set aside in future for debt interest payments.
However, when it comes to mental health and the provision of therapy, we should consider a longer-term view of the economics.
Spending money to improve mental health services is an investment in our future.
To make the argument in the Chancellor’s terms, it is clear that stagnant productivity is one of the driving reasons behind the economy’s relatively slow rate of growth, which is keeping tax receipts down. Yet research last year from the Centre for Mental Health found that low productivity as a result of mental health problems costs employers a staggering £21.2 billion per year, with the total cost of poor mental health to business amounting to £34.9 billion annually.
To give those figures some context, at last year’s General Election we called for an additional £1.5 billion to be spent on psychotherapy annually, which could provide access to psychotherapeutic services for over a million adults and half a million children who are currently going untreated.
It is obvious to us that a significant increase in spending on mental health services – including addressing the unacceptably thin spread of psychotherapists in the NHS – would not only benefit the millions of people currently unable to access treatment; it would also benefit the economy.
That is why we would have liked to have seen this issue addressed in the Spring Statement.
However, the Chancellor has indicated that he may be willing to increase levels of funding for both the NHS and local authorities in the Budget in November.
It is therefore vital that, between now and then, the Government is pressured as much as possible to provide guarantees for mental health services as part of any spending increases.
As we approach public policy with renewed vigour, we are determined to be a part of that conversation.