Tackling poverty and mental health – what we know and what we can do

10 August 2016

I recently published Poverty and mental health, my research review exploring the dynamics of the relationship between mental health and poverty.

The UK is the world’s sixth largest economy, yet today 13 million (that’s 1 in 5 people) are living here in poverty. Given the daily struggle that people living in poverty experience life to be, it is perhaps not surprising that this review found that poverty increases the risk of mental health problems and is both a cause and consequence of mental ill health.

The 2015 Monitoring poverty and social exclusion report found that within the lowest socio-economic class, 26% of women and 23% of men were at a high risk of mental health problems. It is clear that there is much that we can do to prevent both mental health problems and poverty by tackling the root causes of both and by mitigating their impacts on individuals, families and communities.

Complexities of poverty and mental health

I have written Poverty and mental health to be a substantial resource for anyone wanting to address these issues in government, services and communities. It is unapologetically detailed.

The report speaks to the complexity of addressing mental health and poverty, detailing how governments across the UK can tackle mental health and poverty through policy, services and research in health, social care, education, employment, social security, advice and the built environment.

Income is key to protecting individuals and families from falling into poverty and supporting them to move out of it. Yet, mental health problems can disrupt education, training and entry into and progression within work. This means that people do not fulfil their earning and wider potential. People with mental health problems can end up employed in jobs that are low paid, insecure and undermine their mental health and wellbeing.

Stigma

They may also face stigma and discrimination in the workplace. The Equality and Human Rights Commission reported last week the significant pay gap (42%) for people who experience depression and panic attacks. Men with anxiety or depression are paid only 74p for every pound earned by those who do not have these mental health issues. For men with phobias or panic that figure goes down to 58p.

Commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Poverty and mental health will inform its anti-poverty strategy, which will be launched on 6 September. This comprehensive, long-term strategy will show how the Government, businesses, communities, charities and individuals can all mobilise for a UK free from poverty.

The mental health impact of poverty is so profound, pervasive and toxic for individuals, families and communities, and across generations, that it is vital that national, devolved and local government take urgent action.

Read Iris Elliott's Poverty and mental health report

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