Hosted by the Mental Health Foundation, this week marks Mental Health Awareness Week (14-20 May). In this guest blog post, Colin Kinloch, Debt Advice Strategy & Innovation Manager at the Money Advice Service (MAS), discusses the importance of developing holistic support services for those struggling with both financial difficulties and their mental wellbeing and calls for greater partnership working across a range of sectors.
Problem debt can impact many aspects of a person’s life, not just their financial situation. It can contribute to feelings of stress or poor mental wellbeing by putting pressures on relationships, family life and jeopardising the roof over your head. Often, those struggling with debt will lay awake at night, struggling with feelings of anxiety and withdrawal.
Research shows that those with mental health issues are three times as likely to be in problem debt, more likely to be living on a low income and have lower levels of financial capability (according to The impact of problem debt on health – a literature review by Equity Action).
Given this sensitive link – what role can the debt advice sector debt play in providing support to clients struggling with both?
Value of advice
It is firstly important to note the significant role that debt advice can play in helping to improve mental wellbeing for some over-indebted people.
Our Economic Impact of Debt Advice report, highlights that those receiving debt advice, experience a reduction in levels of depression, anxiety and panic attacks as a result. If you quantify this in financial terms, it equates to a cost benefit to the UK economy of up to £145m per annum, due to the reduced health service costs and improvements to quality of life across these three areas.
This confirms what we have all long believed – debt advice provides direct and indirect benefits to those who receive it. As such, developing accessible services for those suffering with mental health problems is a key priority given the scale of mental ill health within the over-indebted population and the positive impact that advice can have.
How can we create holistic support?
As one of the largest commissioners of face to face debt advice in the UK, MAS has a key role to play.
In December 2017, we published a five-year commissioning strategy for 2018 – 2023, which outlined our new approach to commissioning debt advice, focusing on achieving better client outcomes by building partnerships across sectors to deliver greater access to holistic support to the most financially vulnerable groups.
We are focussing on strengthening our partnerships across key sectors working across the three cross cutting themes: over-indebted people with dependent children, low household incomes and those who experience mental ill health. We have also identified six target groups, including those with severe mental health issues and people newly diagnosed with a long-term physical health problem.
Working with the sector, we have devised a strategy which puts clients at the heart of every step in the commissioning cycle. It is the foundation on which we will build together and ensure we deliver more effective outcomes for clients through a rigorous focus on quality, holistic support, consistency and value for money.
We’re calling on industry to join with us to design services that can help address the link between money and mental health problems. We want to facilitate greater partnership working and collaboration between stakeholders from across financial services, advice and mental health charities and the health sector which will help everyone meet the duty of care we have to our clients.
In particular, we want to work with others to:
- Understand the characteristics of the target groups
- Co-design and commission services that reach out to and engage with these target groups
- Identify and work with providers with the abilities to focus on these groups
- Map existing good practice in reaching the target groups and share that across the sector
By working together, keeping in mind that those experiencing problems with mental health may be more prone to problems managing money, and vice versa, we can have a significant impact on breaking the cycle that traps people in indebtedness and stress.
The commissioning strategy will be introduced though a phased approach and will be rolled out regionally to ensure continuous improvement throughout the process. The first phase has commenced, prioritising London and the North West. If you are interested in working with MAS or discussing the commissioning strategy and its aims further, please contact Colin.Kinloch@moneyadviceservice.org.uk.