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Cost of Living: Impact on Mental Health

Volume 742: debated on Tuesday 5 December 2023

12. What recent assessment she has made of the potential impact of increases in the cost of living on mental health. (900478)

We are acutely aware of the impact that the cost of living has on mental health, which is why this Conservative Government spent over £350 billion during the pandemic on protecting people’s jobs and over £60 billion during the recent cost of living pressures to pay for their energy bills.

The Centre for Mental Health, the British Psychological Society and others have raised serious concerns about the UK Government’s new back to work plan, warning that the increased threat of applying benefit sanctions or coercing people into jobseeking will be detrimental to claimants struggling with their mental health. Does the Minister share my concern about this, and has she made any representations to her Cabinet colleagues about the mental health impact of these measures?

That is the difference between the SNP and the Conservatives: we have aspiration for people, and we absolutely want to support people with mental health problems and illness to get into work. They should have the same opportunities to get into work, and not just to get a job, but to get a good job and get a career. If we look at its website, Mind supports people getting into work, saying that it is not just a source of income, but provides a “sense of identity” and “structure” as well as support, confidence and ambition.

A recent study by Magic Breakfast and the British Nutrition Foundation found that eating a healthy breakfast can improve the nutritional intake of the most vulnerable children, improving their physical and cognitive development and their mental health. Will my hon. Friend work with colleagues in the Department for Education to consider expanding school breakfast provision in order to reduce the health impact of child food insecurity?

We want a more cross-Government approach to mental health provision, and that is why in our suicide prevention strategy we are working with multiple Departments. My hon. Friend asks about support for nutrition in schools, and I will certainly raise that with colleagues in the Department for Education to see what more can be done.

I welcome the Secretary of State to her new role. Research by the Mental Health Foundation found that the cost of living crisis has left a third of UK adults feeling anxious, more than a quarter feeling stressed, and almost one in 10 feeling hopeless. What representations has the Minister made to Cabinet colleagues regarding the impact of the cost of living crisis on health outcomes since she took up her post?

I have outlined some of the financial support that the Government have given during covid and the cost of living pressures. I also point to schemes that the Treasury has rolled out, such as the Breathing Space programme, which sees enforcement action from creditors halted, and interest frozen for people with problem debt who are experiencing mental health issues, and covers a 60-day period. That is the sort of practical help that this Government are giving to people.

We now move to topical questions. We are running late because questions have been too long, as have answers. I often make this plea. In any case, Members should not be reading their questions—questions are not meant to be read; they are meant to be questions. Can everybody please cut out those bits that say their constituency is beautiful, for example, and just ask a question? We all believe that our constituencies are beautiful, and none more so than mine.