The Cost of Living Crisis: A Mental Health Catastrophe
August 21, 2023
Think of a simple food…
Bread? Beans? Sausages?
Bread could cost you nearly 20% more than it did last year. Beans may well have increased by 42%. Sausages are up by 18%. Your little basket is going to be 88p more expensive. It doesn’t really sound like a lot, however, let’s look at a whole weekly grocery bill. It’s 17% more expensive than it was 12 months ago.
The average weekly shopping for a family of four is currently £129.20. That’s an increase of £18.77. Every single week that accumulates over £75 per month. Getting towards £1000 a year! It shouldn’t be a surprise that the use of food banks has risen by 93% in the last 12 months.
And it isn’t just food prices that have gone up at an alarming rate.
Since January 2022, it’s been bad news all around- energy bills jumped from an average of £2,100 to £2,500 per year. That’s a 19% increase. The average mortgage costs increased by 61%, resulting in a possible monthly increase of £481. Lastly, petrol prices leapt by 24%, and diesel by 31%.
We are in the middle of an unprecedented cost of living crisis which is wreaking havoc on the mental health of the country.
But Why Is Everything So Expensive?
Inflation is high, but what does this actually mean?
Well, inflation is simply the increase in prices over time. If a bottle of milk costs £1 then £1.05 a year later, the annual milk inflation is 5%. A little inflation (around 2%) is normal, but recent huge rises have hit households hard. In late October 2022, inflation soared to 11.1% (the highest in 41 years) pushing prices sky-high. So why did inflation spike so sharply? Below are some reasons why:
The pandemic caused huge supply chain disruption. Some items failed to keep up with consumer demands and prices rose.
Following the pandemic, oil and gas were in greater demand as life returned to normal. However, the war in Ukraine meant less was available from Russia, putting massive pressure on prices.
The war also reduced the amount of grain available from Ukraine, pushing up global food costs. This was compounded by droughts through 2022 which damaged crops and ruined harvests. The climate crisis is creating frequent weather extremes which damage crops, livestock and fisheries both in Britain and around the world.
Whilst other countries have also seen inflation rise dramatically, Brexit has amplified the effect on Britain. Stopping the free movement of EU migrant workers has damaged the transport industry and caused more problems with the supply chain. New trade barriers have restricted imports, pushing food prices up by 33%, costing Britain billions. In addition, exports have dropped by 13%, further damaging the economy.
Recent findings reveal that we’re doing less of the things that make us happy.
23% of us are meeting less often with friends, 30% have poorer quality sleep, 15% find reduced pleasure in hobbies, and 12% are taking less exercise.
10% of us feel hopeless about financial circumstances, 34% feel anxious, and almost 30% are suffering from increased stress. The cost of living crisis is unleashing a subsequent mental health crisis.
Since 2017, the number of UK households struggling with heavy debt has increased by two-thirds. A new analysis reveals that about 12.8 million adults in the UK are unable to pay bills or are finding the repayments a heavy burden.
Unsurprisingly the impact is felt most by Britain’s poorest families, who have endured a shocking collapse in living standards over the past year. Nearly two-thirds are now experiencing extreme levels of poverty and deprivation.
The annual survey of poverty and social services by the Buttle UK charity reports unparalleled concerns about the rise of hunger and mental illness among struggling and vulnerable families.
Buttle UK surveyed 1240 professionals working in child protection, family support, housing, homelessness, and schools in April and May 2023. Between them, they were working with over 200,000 children across the UK. Of this group, 120,000 (60%) were reported to be in destitution - defined as ‘going without the essentials we all need to eat, stay warm and dry, and keep clean.’ This is a 15% rise from the previous year.
These findings are reinforced by the Institute of Government and Public Policy, which states that 14.5 million people are living in poverty - ‘having resources well below minimum needs.’ That’s 22% of the UK population in which of these, 4.3 million are children.
The effects of this are stark and disturbing.
According to the Buttle data, of those living in poverty:
- 57% cannot afford enough food and nutrition
- 58% cannot afford gas and electricity
- 63% go without basics such as beds, sofas and appliances
- 49% are not able to afford their rent or equivalent
- 65% go without IT equipment for education or employment
In one of the world’s richest countries, 5.7 million households are having to reduce or skip meals because they don’t have enough money for food, while over 7 million are going without heating or basic toiletries.
The wider impacts are alarming. Of the most vulnerable households:
- Mental illness is present in 70%
- Domestic violence in 64%
- Neglect in 55%
- Parental separation in 69%
- Verbal abuse in 65%
The cost of living crisis has massively worsened the already significant national mental health crisis that many children, young people and adults are enduring.
Analysis by the BMA shows that the number of children and young people in contact with mental health services has quadrupled since the pandemic, with figures now close to 400,000 per month. Additionally, over one million adults seek monthly mental health support and the number is increasing. BMA findings also highlight the disproportionate effects of the current crisis on areas of economic deprivation. In disadvantaged areas, more than twice as many people are in contact with mental health services compared with more affluent areas.
What Can Be Done?
Improve Mental Health Support
There is a clear mental health crisis engulfing the UK.
Current data shows that 60% of us suffer symptoms of anxiety, 56% feel elements of depression and a staggering 79% suffer from stress. 20% of us have suicidal thoughts. In 2021, 6319 people in England, Scotland and Wales died by suicide, and the rate is increasing.
Demand for mental health support services massively outstrips current provision, as BMA mental health policy lead, Dr Andrew Molodynski explains:
‘The mental health crisis in this country is spiralling out of control and is failing some of the most vulnerable in society, as workforce capacity cannot keep pace with demand. It is incredibly concerning that we are seeing such a sharp increase in demand for child and adolescent mental health services, almost 4 times more than the current rate of expansion of the psychiatry workforce. The picture is similarly bleak for adult services, as there has been a steady increase in demand for services, meaning that more patients are not getting the timely access to the care they need.’
Despite increased funding for mental health services, the BMA is clear about its requirements:
‘If the government genuinely wants to meet mental health needs, it must step up its commitments further still. While the £2.3bn promised for mental health services in 2019 was intended to provide 2 million appointments by 2023/24, growing demand means the BMA estimates that money needs to be doubled to £5.2bn if we're going to help everyone who needs it.’
We’re living through difficult times. The COVID pandemic, the war in Ukraine, the unprecedented cost of living, mental health turmoil, a climate crisis…
There are solutions, but no quick fixes.
While we all hope for the situation to get better, it’s worth bearing three things in mind.
It’s vital to stay connected with family and friends. Positive, healthy relationships are always important, even more so during times of trouble. Bottling up worries and keeping them inside can be damaging. Talking things through with someone you trust can help relieve pressure, and solutions may even arise. To book a free initial consultation with one of our qualified mental health professionals visit Mindsum.
Get help if you're struggling to manage your finances. It can be tempting to ignore a bad financial situation, but it won’t make it go away. Most companies will listen if you explain that you’re finding it hard to make payments. Many will help you create a manageable payment plan or negotiate another way forward. Speak to your local Citizens Advice (England, Scotland and Wales) or Advice NI (Northern Ireland) if you’re worried about bills and debts. They can also advise you on any benefits you may be entitled to. Your local council may also be able to help with emergency loans and grants, and the government’s Help for Households has information about available support, plus advice and tips to help you save money.
Keep doing things that promote positive mental and physical health.
Hobbies, exercise, a good diet, plenty of sleep…During a challenging time, it’s more important than ever to look after yourself, to try to have fun, to enjoy life as much as possible, and to look to the future.