Martin Lewis: Money and Mental Health – what a year 2020/21

In 2016, I founded the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute (MMHPI) charity – in a very short time, due to the hard work of the team, it has established itself as the go-to place for policies to divorce the marriage made in hell that is debt and mental health issues.

I'm very proudly and happily still funding the charity, and am the chair of trustees, though there's a very high-powered trustee team who I learn a lot from when helping and guiding the full-time execs. As the charity chair, I write the foreword to the annual report each year – and as the 2020/21 annual report is out today, I thought I'd publish my formal chair's foreword here, just to keep you updated about what's going on (and for transparency as part of my What happened to the £10m I said I'd give to charity blog).

PS: Before you start, if you or a loved one has had experience of mental health issues, do consider joining MMHPI's research community. We'd love you to join others in giving your feedback to policy suggestions.

Martin Lewis: Chair's foreword

It's now more than 15 months since the first lockdown began. The world and the UK have changed utterly in that time. The twinned problems of financial difficulty and mental ill-health that we are here to fight haven't waivered, they've strengthened. That's why I am incredibly proud of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute's work, and its dual-minded focus to reduce the harm caused by this terrifying combination, exacerbated by the pandemic.

Our work in 2020/21 was guided by three ambitious organisational goals:

  1. Fewer people are disadvantaged as a result of their mental health or experience psychological harm when choosing, using or paying for essential services.

    In October we celebrated a major victory for our Stop the Debt Threats campaign, when the Government agreed to change decades-old rules which forced lenders to send intimidating letters to people in problem debt. These changes will make the worst debt letters more supportive, easier to understand and less threatening for people in problem debt – a big win for everyone who backed the campaign, including our research community members who shaped our research and spoke out about their experiences in the media.

    Through our innovative Mental Health Accessible programme, we also continued to drive real improvements in the treatment people with mental health problems receive from essential services firms. Lloyds Bank became the first firm to receive a Mental Health Accessible accreditation, after making important changes to its services following a rigorous assessment by Money and Mental Health.

    We published a series of research reports highlighting the greater risk of financial harm people with mental health problems face when using online services and space – from shopping to scams – and how Government, regulators and tech platforms can bolster online consumer protections. One key recommendation was the need for proper regulation of buy now, pay later credit, and we were delighted when our lobbying along with other organisations saw the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) announce in February 2021 its intention to regulate the industry.

    Finally, we embarked on a programme of work to engage financial services providers to step up support for people affected by problem gambling. Eleven UK banks now offer gambling blocks, and many also include 'cooling-off periods' to help customers stay in control – proposals that we put forward in earlier research, before any banks offered these tools.

  2. Fewer people have poor living standards as a result of mental health problems.

    During this year we launched our Mental Health and Income Commission, which brought together experts from business, politics, trade unions and charities, to examine how people's mental health affects the income they receive.

    Research undertaken for the commission established that there is a significant income gap for people with mental health problems compared to the wider population – thanks to a combination of low wages, low employment prospects and long-term benefits cuts.

    It also set out both immediate and long-term measures that Government and employers should adopt to reduce the mental health income gap – from tackling the barriers to employment that many people with mental health problems face, to strengthening the safety net for those too unwell to work.

  3. Support services become more effective at helping people who have both money and mental health problems.

    In July, we published research highlighting the difficulty people with mental health problems can face in engaging with free debt advice, and setting out ways that advice providers can make their services more accessible. We are now working with the Money and Pensions – the Government's body to promote better financial guidance and information – to drive improvements off the back of this research.

    Finally, we also saw important milestones in our Stop the Charge campaign, which aims to end GP charges for the debt and mental health evidence form, paperwork that people with mental health problems can need to get help from creditors. In September, the Welsh Government announced the end of these charges for people in Wales.

The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute is a small charity that is only five years old, but which has a huge impact. There are many factors that help us punch far above our weight. One at its core is the incredible support of our research community of 5,000 experts-by-experience, whose ideas, stories and feedback are at the heart of everything we do. We owe a huge heartfelt thanks to them for their tremendous support sharing their experiences and ideas, and for highlighting where changes need to be made.

There are many others deserving thanks for their crucial contribution to our work. They include vice-chair Richard Lloyd and all my talented fellow trustees for their continued support, scrutiny and stewardship, and our advisory board for their insight and guidance. Finally, I want to say a big thanks to the whole Money and Mental Health team, led by Helen Undy and Katie Alpin (while Helen was on maternity leave), whose passion, energy and dedication has enabled the charity to have such great impact.

The coming year promises further uncertainty and hardship for many, but also some hope. With that our ambition is to continue to work to limit the damage that the pandemic causes, but also tackle with vigour some of the longer term problems this crisis has heightened.

Martin Lewis OBE
Chair and founder, The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute