People with mental health problems, disabilities and long-term physical illnesses are struggling with mounting debt problems, according to two new reports.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) revealed that four in 10 people aged 25 to 54 with a mental health problem have an income which is less than 60% of the average.
This is in comparison to 18% of “healthy” people in the same age bracket and 28% of those dealing with another long-standing health problem.
Research released on the same day by StepChange, a not for profit debt advice service, showed one in five people helped by the organisation last year had an “additional vulnerability” on top of their financial difficulties.
Of the 29,500 the charity identified as vulnerable, 43% had mental health problems while 4.7% had a physical disability, 4.6% had cancer and 4.1% were in other poor health.
More than three quarters of people with a terminal illness said this was the main reason for them falling into debt, while 68% people with cancer cited illness as the main cause of their financial problems, with common forms of debt including credit card and overdraft debt and arrears from missed rent and bills.
There was a “clear link” between financial issues and health, StepChange’s report said.
“These figures are hugely worrying. They highlight a clear link between falling ill, and falling into debt,” it added.
“This shouldn’t be inevitable. The fact that it appears to be raises questions about how effective the safety-net for people with mental and physical health problems is.”
The charity said bereavement, relationship breakdown and poor treatment by firms could also make people vulnerable to debt at certain times.
Lee Brookes, from Manchester, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2007 and managed to rack up £32,000 in debt after experiencing cycles of mania (feeling high and overactive) and depression.
He told HuffPost UK how he was juggling mental illness and debt.
“During the manic stages I would go through episodes of spending and spend money that I didn’t have or that I’d borrowed,” the 41-year-old said.
“After I spent the money I would then spiral into depression. It got to a point where I had bailiffs chasing me. It became an unmanageable situation and I went through periods where it got so dark I considered taking my own life.”
The IFS report said 40% of people with a mental health condition are considered to be “materially deprived”, meaning they cannot afford to do things like heat their homes or pay their bills.
And in 2016/17, just 53% of people with a long-term condition were in paid work, compared to 88% of the healthy population and 70% of those with a physical illness.
Those who do work tend to earn considerably less, with IFS researchers reporting that the median weekly earnings of those in good health is £479, compared to £369 for people dealing with mental health issues – a difference of £110 a week.
This is partly down to people dealing with mental health problems working fewer hours, the research – which was funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation – claims.
Labour’s shadow mental health minister Barbara Keeley blamed “the Tories’ cruel and relentless austerity policies” for the problems.
“The damaging impact of financial pressures, poor living standards and insecure work under the Tories are at the root of these alarming figures, while the underfunding of mental health services means that poorer people are less likely to recover from psychological therapies when they develop mental ill health,” she said.
Economists at the IFS warned that mental-health-related poverty is likely to become “an increasingly important issue”, with the number of people who reported having a a long-term mental health problem increasing by 250,000 between 2013/14 and 2016/17 to 1.3 million – which equates to 18% of the population aged between 25 and 54-years-old.
A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “Supporting people with mental health conditions is a top priority for this government, which is why we’ve commissioned two expert-led reviews and are investing more in mental health than ever before – spending a record £11.86 billion last year.
“We know that good work is good for health and that people are less likely to be in poverty if they are in employment. That’s why we provide a range of support to help recruit and retain people with mental health conditions, including disability employment advisors, our Disability Confident scheme and have increased the support available through Access to Work by £15,000 to £57,200, which has a dedicated mental health support service.”
With increased financial, academic and social pressures, there’s arguably never been a more stressful time for students – and that can have a big impact on their overall mental well-being.
Nearly five times as many students as 10 years ago disclose mental health conditions to their universities, according to a report by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), resulting in an increase in the need for access to their institutions’ mental health services.
However, an increase in demand means that many services are only able to offer students short-term solutions, such as brief counselling sessions or medication. Some students are also having to wait over four months for treatment at some universities.
Andrew, 19, a second-year history student at the University of Warwick, says he has been on the waiting list for his university’s counselling programme for over a year.
He said: “I didn’t want to sell myself as a suicide risk and I may have underplayed that to the extent that they thought ‘oh well, he’s fine, we’ll leave him’.
“Because I have a diagnosed condition, it means they’d have to commit to me every week for three years. I think they were looking more to help people with short-term issues.
“Being put on a waiting list alienates you from seeking help, this is the problem. It’s painfully clear when you talk to someone from the university counselling programme that they just didn’t have enough staff for the number of students.”
University counselling services are struggling to meet the overwhelming demand. The results of an IPPR survey of 58 UK higher education providers shows 94% have experienced an increase in demand for counselling services over the past five years, while 61% have seen demand increase by over 25%.
Dr Martin Cunningham, a GP and member of the Student Health Association, said: “The services are working at full stretch. The number of students presenting themselves with mental health issues has shot up and the services are working very hard, but they are funded in such a way that it is really short-term work.”
A lack of resources can mean that when students do receive counselling, it is sometimes not focused on long-term solutions.
Former physics and animations student Bertie, 25, who attended the universities of Kent, Sussex and UWE, said: “I’d receive counselling once every week or once every other week. I’d feel a bit better that day or for a few hours afterwards but apart from that, it was just back to the same.”
Other students report being offered medication as a form of treatment, without any strategies for dealing with mental health issues in the future.
One University of Kent student, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “They recommended I take SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) but I didn’t want to take any medication.
“I wish I was offered alternatives to medication and counselling that actually advised me on steps I could take in the future.”
Alan Percy, chair of the Heads of University Counselling Services, a specialist group of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), stressed that university counselling services are facing pressure to have their students’ needs met immediately.
“This means that many student services offer short-term fixes which are less helpful in the longer term,” he said.
“However, there is no magic solution. The danger would be for all the emphasis to be on services to offer speedy appointments but not to be able to offer the appropriate level of professional counselling for those who need it.”
Levels of mental illness, mental distress and low wellbeing among students in higher education in the UK are increasing,and are high relative to other sections of the population.
The University of Kent says it is working with the NHS to enable easier access to mental health services.
“When a student requests counselling, they are asked to complete a self-assessment form which then enables us to triage clients, where those with the most urgent need are given the highest priority,” it said in a statement.
“We also offer a daily crisis drop-in centre and self-help services such as Big White Wall, a 24/7 online mental health and well-being service.”
The University of Warwick also said it provides an extensive range of mental health services for its students, adding: “We have recently committed over £500k extra to support Well-being Support Services, including additional outreach workers alongside an enhanced range of services available to students.”
Jackie Doyle-Price, minister for Mental Health and Inequalities, said her department spent £11.6 billion on mental health services last year and is pledging to work with Universities UK to make sure students feel supported.
She said: “University is a pivotal time in people’s lives, which is why we are working closely with university leaders to make good mental health central to their student services.”
The Government accepts it was wrong to prevent higher levels of claims being made for mental health conditions.
All 1.6 million disability benefit claims are to be reviewed after the Government decided not to contest a High Court ruling on personal independence payment.
The review follows the Government’s acceptance of a ruling against a policy that excluded people with mental health conditions from claiming a higher level of personal independence payment (PIP).
Ministers previously said it could see 220,000 PIP claimants awarded higher payments.
“This will be a complex exercise and of considerable scale, as we will be reconsidering approximately 1.6 million claims,” disabilities minister Sarah Newton said.
Government regulations introduced in March prevented the award of a higher PIP mobility rate if someone was unable to take a familiar journey on their own unless it was “for reasons other than psychological distress”.
The rules, which overruled the decision of an independent 2016 tribunal, meant people incapacitated because of a mental health condition would not be able to receive higher rates of support.
The judgment made in December ruled the policy “blatantly discriminatory” against people with mental health conditions.
Ministers at the time said the decision would affect 164,000 people’s benefits and would cost £3.7bn by 2022.
Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey confirmed earlier this month that she would not appeal the verdict but would implement it with payments backdated to the original 2016 tribunal.
Philip Connolly, policy manager at Disability Rights UK, welcomed the announcement.
“This review highlights the ongoing and persistent failures of the assessment process, which is badly designed and implemented,” he said.
“Huge amounts of taxpayers’ money is being wasted on poor quality assessments which deny disabled people benefits that they qualify for.
“We hope this doesn’t mean that some disabled people are going to have to attend yet more assessments.”
It is currently unclear what the timetable for the review will be.
Shadow work and pensions secretary Debbie Abrahams said: “The disabilities minister has refused to publish a timetable of how many months or even years it will take for this ‘complex exercise’ to be completed.
“The Government was wrong to cut PIP benefits in the first place, wrong to bring in the PIP regulations last year and it was wrong to repeatedly ignore the views of the courts.”