Budget: What does it mean for people living with mental illness?

05/03/2021

Our Public Affairs and Stakeholder Manager, Tristan Westgate, goes through the government's Spring Budget for 2021 and presents the impact it will have on people severely affected by mental illness, mental health social care and the charity sector. 

What is the Spring Budget?

The Spring Budget is one of two major financial statements given in a financial year. It gives an update on the overall health of the economy and outlines key government spending priorities for the months ahead.

In 2021-22, the government is still planning to spend £93bn on virus related support. But this will be followed by £25bn a year of corporate tax and income tax rises by the middle of the decade. The tax rises will be the largest since 1993.

  • At an estimated £355bn, the level of UK government borrowing forecast for 2020-21 is due to be the highest since the second world war, reflecting sheer scale of emergency state support for companies and households during the Covid-19 pandemic.

There were also the first indications that there will be a significant squeeze on public sector spending in future. The Budget documents showed a stealthy £4bn a year cut in spending alongside the tax rises.

What does it mean for people living with severe mental illness?

The Spring Budget, while continuing some vital support policies such as furlough does not make the necessary progress towards a new vision for supporting people with mental health issues. This is disappointing considering the deterioration in mental health outcomes caused by lockdown, and the long-term implications of the pandemic on mental health.

This was a missed opportunity to progress towards a ‘Communities that Care’ model of support for people with severe mental illness. This would look like a long-term vision for a gold standard in mental health care, recognising that tackling mental illness goes beyond the NHS and necessitates good housing, employment and financial support, physical health as well as good support networks and social care.

  • Furthermore, it is unfortunate that social care has once again been overlooked in the Spring Budget. Social care reform has been promised for several years now and the pandemic has clearly demonstrated the importance of the role in local communities.

The public’s perception of social care change over the summer and there was a much greater appreciation for the role of care givers also. This makes it all the more disappointing that investment and reform of the sector has been delayed again.

Mental health references

Disappointingly the Spring Budget included practically no references to mental health or severe mental illness and demonstrates that it is not currently a priority for the Treasury. This is despite significant increased demand for services caused by the pandemic and worsening outcomes.

The only notable mental health spending commitment announced yesterday was an additional £10 million of funding for Veterans’ mental health. This is perhaps unsurprising considering the £500m in last November’s Spending Review, though this money will only be able to go so far considering the growing pressures on the sector.

Mental health social care

The government made no progress towards delivering on the £1.1bn recommended for mental health social care, made by the Mental Health and Wellbeing Advisory Group of the Department of Health and Social Care Covid-19 Task Force.

While fixing the manifest issues facing the social care sector will be complex and multifaceted, significant new investment will undoubtedly be a vital component in resolving some of the issues facing the sector including in the short term, ahead of the planned Spending Review later this year.

Leaders from Care England, Right at Home, Age UK and the National Care Forum (NCF) have all reacted with ‘disappointment’ to the failure to offer a long-term support plan with social care.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK and co-chair of the Care and Support Alliance said:

  • Experts have been warning about the sustainability of many smaller care companies for some time and unfortunately the Chancellor spurned this opportunity to give them a helping hand. The result may well be an upsurge in closures over the next few months, putting more stress and strain on older and disabled people and their unpaid carers, who have already endured so much.

NHS

The Treasury’s detailed documents reveal NHS England will see an £8.6bn decrease in funding for 2021-22, unless the government commits to more spending before then. Experts say this has to happen in order for the health service to cope with the extra demand from coronavirus and tackle the largest waiting list of patients since 2007.

The charity sector

There were no announcements for charities in the Spring Budget, drawing much criticism from the sector. Vicky Browning, chief executive of Acevo, said: “The government is taking the charity sector for granted. Since the first day of the first lockdown the government has relied on charities for help delivering food, medical care, mental health support, and housing support.”

Others, such as Neil Heslop, chief executive of the Charities Aid Foundation, welcomed announcements such as the extension of the furlough scheme and additional funding for domestic violence programmes and armed forces veterans. He however added that “the lack of wider support for the voluntary sector is disappointing while many charities still face challenges of increased demand and constrained fundraising.”

Welfare

The Chancellor continued some coronavirus support measures — including the furlough scheme that pays 80 per cent of workers’ wages and the £20-a-week uplift in Universal Credit (UC) — but only for six months. The cliff-edge effect when this ends and the potential impact this will have on millions of people’s mental health is concerning.

  • The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) said by only extending the UC uplift by six months that the “support will be whipped away at the same time as furlough ends and will lead to hundreds of thousands more people being pulled into poverty. It is also totally indefensible that people who are sick, disabled or carers claiming legacy benefits continue to be excluded from this vital support.”

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