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Material insecurity and mental distress doing ‘great harm’ in Britain – JRF

The Government must wake up to the twin problems of material insecurity and mental distress, which are doing “great harm” to the economy and individual wellbeing, a charity has said.

Renters, insecure workers and families with minimal savings are caught in a vicious cycle of poor financial health and mental health, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF).

Its latest report, Anxiety Nation?: Economic insecurity and mental distress in 2020s Britain, says there is much to support the characterisation of modern Britain as an “insecurity society”.

This has been exacerbated by two trends since the turn of the century – a growing number of people in private rentals who are unable to buy homes, and a growing number of people classed as having no savings.

The report argues mental distress impedes confidence which can lead to work problems, which in turn can lead to issues with housing, debt and relationships, prompting further anxiety.

Analysis of data from the annual Understanding Society survey covering 2019-20 suggests that renters are at least twice as likely as homeowners to report losing sleep, feeling under strain or depressed, and are at far greater risk of lacking energy and calm in their lives.

And it found that those with insecure jobs such as zero-hour contracts have poorer mental health than secure workers.

People with less than £1,000 in the bank were around twice as likely to say they take less care with work or other tasks, or that their social life was suffering, than those with at least £5,000, according to analysis of the 2016-17 survey.

And analysis of local prescribing data for 2021-22 shows the number of antidepressant prescriptions is about twice as high in the most-deprived parts of England as in the least-deprived.

The JRF is calling for the Government to use next week’s fiscal statement to bring stability to those whose lives “are currently being lived on shifting sands”.

It says boosting support available for money management services such as Citizens Advice is highly likely to be cost effective in relieving anxiety.

The Government should also make good on its promise to end so-called no fault Section 21 evictions and introduce an employment bill to help workers who lack basic protections.

JRF Fellow and report author, Tom Clark, said: “Too many people are caught up in a vicious cycle in which mental distress impedes confidence, leading to problems at work, which can in turn lead to issues with debt, housing and even relationships, leading to still more worry.

“While more analytical work is needed, what’s already clear is that the UK has big, and on many measures, growing problems with both material insecurity and mental distress, and that the two very much seem to be linked.

“The Government needs to wake up to the reality of the twin problems of insecurity and anxiety, which are doing great harm to both national economic well-fare and individual well-being.”

A Government spokesperson said: “We understand that people are concerned about rising prices, which is why we are directly supporting households in need following the aftershocks from the pandemic and Putin’s war in Ukraine.

“A second Cost of Living Payment – worth £324 – will be paid out to over eight million people this month, complementing the £1 billion Household Support Fund. And the Government’s Energy Price Guarantee will save a typical household around £700 over winter.

“Our Renters Reform Bill will also deliver a fairer deal for renters. For those who need mental health support, we are increasing investment in mental health services in England by at least £2.3 billion a year by 2024.”