Martin Lewis: Whether it's suicide prevention, gambling, insurance, or getting debt help embedded in the NHS – I'm very proud the Money & Mental Health Policy Institute is having a big impact. Can you help?
In 2016 I set up the Money & Mental Health Policy Institute charity, and I've chaired it and provided core funding ever since. Last week I was in a trustees' meeting, and got a summary of some of the year's activities from the acting chief exec Conor D'Arcy. It made such good reading, I wanted to share some of it to show exactly how many pies the team there have their fingers in (and how they improve the pies, which is probably where my analogy breaks down).
Can you help? If you have mental health issues, or a loved one does, then do consider joining our Research Community – a brilliant team of volunteers with lived experience who make sure my super-clever team's ideas will work in the real world. Anyway, on to Conor's notes...
2023 has been another impactful year for us, with a growing snowball of changes demonstrating the cumulative impact that our work is now having:
- While some of the Government's proposals for the benefits system of late are disappointing, we were pleased that a number of actions we've called for over several years are being taken forward by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). This includes exploring ways to support people claiming Universal Credit to give others permission to act on their behalf, which was the focus of our 'Set Up to Fail' campaign.
- In April, the Government published its long-awaited Gambling White Paper and announced its intention to consult on a range of ideas to make online gambling safer. A number of the recommendations we made in our 2020 report (which is referred to in the White Paper) are featured, including changes to default settings, limits and game design. The White Paper also references the need for financial services to strengthen spending blocks, a long-standing influencing aim for us.
- The Government published its 2023-28 suicide prevention strategy in September. The previous version of the strategy made only a few references to how people's economic circumstances could place them at higher risk of suicide. We have long called for this to change, and we presented to the Government's advisory group, led by the Minister for Mental Health, earlier in the year. In the new document, which references our work, financial issues form a much more central part of the strategy with several promising actions attached.
- A number of recommendations in our report Written Off? Making insurance work better for people with mental health problems were directed at insurers and relevant sector bodies. Following extensive engagement, we were pleased that the Association of British Insurers committed to reviewing its mental health and insurance hub on its website and to better explain why and how specific data points like mental health are used in the industry.
- Our research was also cited by a number of regulators and government bodies this year, including in Ofgem's consumer standards consultation, Ofwat's customer-focused licence condition work and the Government Debt Management Function's Vulnerability Toolkit, which is designed to help public sector bodies recovering debt to identify and support customers.
- A piece of promising progress from 2021 was a pilot we worked on, led by the Money and Pensions Service (MaPS) and operating in the north-east of England. That pilot developed a 'Money in Mind' toolkit, designed to be used by mental health practitioners to prevent and resolve financial difficulties for people with severe mental illness and to tackle suicidality. MaPS has now launched the toolkits on its website for mental health practitioners across the UK, with our involvement directly referenced.
Research and policy
By the end of 2023, we will have launched eight new publications, exploring:
- Insurance, including a best practice guide for insurers
- Economic inactivity
- How our ethnicity interacts with our money and mental health
- The case for integrating money and mental health support
- Proposals to share vulnerability data between firms
- Debt collection practices
All of these – bar the last one, which will be published in December – are available on our website.
This year was also a significant one for government and regulatory initiatives in our work areas. We submitted 17 responses to consultations, including Ofgem's call for evidence on prepayment meter rules and protections, a Bank of England/Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) paper on artificial intelligence and machine learning, and to the DWP's consultation on changes to the Work Capability Assessment.
2023 saw us return to regular in-person events. Our first was a hybrid event for the launch of our insurance report. Attendees were mainly from the insurance and debt advice sectors, as well as other mental health charities, which helped to facilitate some useful conversations about the report's recommendations.
In July, we launched our latest cost of living paper in Westminster, which we also used to conclude our work on the project we've been involved in with King's College London and Citizens Advice, trialling embedding money advice in talking therapies. It was a really energised event, thanks in no small part to Martin's chairing. We had attendees from a range of sectors to hear from Martin and our other speakers, including the Minister for Disabled People Tom Pursglove – whom we've had a positive follow-up with since – and Labour's Jonathan Ashworth MP.
Alongside the public in-person events, we ran an excellent series of webinars and private roundtables. In May, we marked the launch of the final paper in our 'Through the lens' series, considering the link between ethnicity and money and mental health. Speakers included Simi Ryatt from our board of trustees, as well as Shabna Begum, director of research at the Runnymede Trust, and Tracey Bignall from the Race Equality Foundation. We had over 200 attendees on the day – you can watch it back here.
Mental Health Accessible
Our most recent event was led by our Mental Health Accessible programme. In October, we held a webinar sponsored by HSBC UK asking how banks can best use data to support customers in vulnerable situations. Our speakers included Tom Doidge, head of vulnerable customer strategy at Capital One, Kathryn Townsend, head of customer vulnerability, access and inclusion at Nationwide and a government disability and access ambassador, and Jo Legg, head of department at the FCA.
More broadly for Mental Health Accessible, 2023 has been a year of continuing to cement the place of the programme in financial services, while also working with our first client in the energy sector, Ovo. The essential services organisations we've worked with this year – including HSBC UK, Lloyds Bank, Halifax and Bank of Scotland – have a total customer population of over 60 million, which helps to turn our insights into real change.
In 2023, our Research Community of 'experts by experience' was, as always, at the heart of everything we did. This year, members have taken part in 16 new surveys and six focus groups, as well as sharing their experiences in each of our events and in the media. I thought I'd end with some thanks we've received from our Research Community members that trustees don't often get to see:
"Your inclusive and experience-based approach is to be highly commended. You've started with a blank page. You've asked without judgment. And then you've listened. Thank you."
"Thank you for giving me the opportunity to take part... It was good to feel like a contributing member of society again, and I enjoyed discussing the topic and having the input from the others [in the focus group]. It is good to know I am not the only one with varying issues around finances."
"Thank you for giving us a voice, it really is appreciated by all of us in the community and it's a good feeling to be helping make a difference."