Cost-of-living is still causing widespread mental distress, new data shows

Location: England, Scotland, Wales

21st Nov 2023
Influencing policies

New figures reveal: 

  • almost one third (31%) of UK adults have felt anxious in the past month due to their personal financial situation
  • more than one quarter (27%) felt stressed in the past month due to their personal financial situation
  • almost one in ten (9%) felt hopeless in the past month due to their personal financial situation.
  • adults in the lowest socioeconomic groups (DE) were much more likely than those in the highest (AB) to report feeling anxious (37% v 24%), stressed (33% v 21%) or hopeless (14% v 6%) about their financial situation

In the week of the Autumn Statement, we're calling for the Government to ensure all its decisions benefit people's mental health.

The Mental Health Foundation is issuing a stark warning about the persistent levels of mental distress due to the ongoing cost-of-living crisis, with fears that sustained financial strain is driving an ongoing cycle of despair for many people across the UK.

We are today (21 November 2023) publishing new data from a poll of 5000 UK adults carried out by Opinium1 from 1 - 13 November 2023 which reveals that 31% of UK adults had felt anxious, 27% had felt stressed, and 9% had felt hopeless about their personal financial situation in the past month. These figures have not changed substantially since November 2022 when we first surveyed the nation about the mental health impacts of the rising cost of living2.

Poverty and financial strain are key drivers of poor mental health. Our new data shows that adults in the lowest socioeconomic groups were much more likely than those in the highest to report feeling anxious, worried, stressed, or hopeless about their financial situation.  

Despite welcome news that prices are rising at a lower rate, everyday living essentials are still prohibitively expensive for many people. We are particularly concerned that almost one in three people are reporting that their financial situation has stopped them from turning on their heating (28%), and one in seven (13%) had skipped a meal. 

In the week of the Autumn Statement, we are renewing our call for the government to ensure all its decisions benefit the public’s mental health. We're calling on the Government to introduce mental health impact assessments for all government policies, to increase financial support to prevent people from living in poverty, and to ensure that services working with people experiencing financial strain do not stigmatise them or cause further distress.  

Dr Shari McDaid leads the Mental Health Foundation’s work on poverty.  She said: “Our mental health is shaped by our environments and experiences. Over the past 15 years we have lived through overlapping crises: from recession to the pandemic, and now the ongoing cost-of-living crisis. Sometimes it can seem that there is a strange sense of normality about the struggles that people are experiencing; as though we must accept that despite living in one of the richest countries on Earth research from The Trussell Trust tells us that one in seven of us face hunger due to lack of money to buy food.3

“The current extent of mental distress is unacceptable, and we can take action to reduce it. Every day, our governments are making decisions that affect people’s lives, and it is the people who have the least that carry the heaviest burdens. 

"For example, the decision to freeze the income tax-free allowance until 20284 means people on lower incomes are losing a higher proportion of their salaries in tax as inflation rises. We need political decisions to be made with a real awareness of how they impact people’s mental health. The introduction of a mental health impact assessment of all policies would help progress the societal changes we need to support good mental health for all and, in turn, support a healthier and more prosperous United Kingdom.  

“There is much work to be done. In this week’s Autumn Statement, we need to hear about financial support schemes that will prevent people from experiencing financial strain and associated mental health problems. That would be a step in the right direction.”      

The Mental Health Foundation’s previous research with the London School of Economics and Political Science found that mental health problems cost the UK more than £118 billion per year and that prevention of mental health problems is both possible and cost-effective. Poverty is a preventable, well-known risk factor for mental health problems. The charity warns that without action to reduce financial strain, mental health problems and their related costs to society will likely increase.  


For further information and interview requests please email [email protected] .

[1] Polling of 5000 UK adults was carried out by Opinium between 1 and 13 November 2023.  Figures are weighted to be nationally representative. 

[2] The Trussell Trust ‘Hunger in The UK’ report June 2023:

[3] ‘Rising Cost of Living’ Research Briefing, 20 October 2023, House of Commons Library 

[4]  The economic case for investing in prevention of mental health conditions in the UK, Mental Health Foundation and London School of Economics and Political Science, March 2022…

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