NSUN responds to the Spring Budget

On Wednesday 6th March, the Chancellor announced the Spring Budget. Here we respond to some of its key themes, focusing specifically on the impact it will have on health and social care.

The Spring Budget gives the Treasury a chance to offer its view on the nation’s financial and economic situation, and to outline its plan for the future. While this latest budget begins by celebrating the Government’s supposed economic wins, the rest of its contents confirms a narrow focus on productivity. This comes at the expense of any meaningful attempt to address the impact of austerity or improve the lives of those living with ill-health of all kinds. 

Despite an apparent commitment to improving mental health in the Government’s recent Major Conditions Strategy, which outlined the future of NHS care, mental health only gets a brief mention in the Spring Budget. This comes in the form of a vague commitment to ‘expanding and digitising mental health services’, while also ramping up efforts to help those with so-called “severe mental illness” into work.  

Yet again, instead of seriously seeking to understand why people are unable to work, the Government only understands mental ill-health and Disability as ‘the leading driver of increased economic inactivity’.

The Survivor movement has long criticised digital “solutions” to mental ill-health, distress and trauma, noting that the introduction of technology into mental health care often opens the door to surveillance and abuse. Calls for the mass digitisation of mental health services also raise questions around what options there might be for those who are unable to use or access the internet in the event of such changes. 

The overall silence in relation to mental health in this budget is just the most recent in a long line of omissions which expose the Government’s lack of planning around mental ill-health, distress, and trauma such as the recent scrapping of long-awaited reforms to the Mental Health Act

The absence of mental health specific support is of particular concern now as public services brace for the new ‘Right Care Right Person’ policy, under which the Police will no longer attend mental health call-outs. While limiting police involvement in mental health crises is an essential step, doing so without additional funding is considered by many to be dangerous and ill-conceived

Alongside these glaring omissions, the Government has also made various commitments to policies which will keep more and more people in precarious situations. 

Headlines include: 

  • Scrapping cost-of-living payments for people on disability benefits. This will strip nearly 6 million Disabled people of vital financial support. 
  • Reaffirming a commitment to tougher benefits sanctions, and increasing the threshold at which people are eligible for support. This doubles down on changes outlined in the ‘Back to Work’ plan, which would force more Disabled people into work without proper safeguards, and increases the Government’s reductive focus on ‘productivity’.
  • Extending the Household Support Fund (for people struggling to afford food and bills) for 6 months. This is emblematic of the approach taken by this government to poverty – small concessions are made to those in the most precarious situations while the root causes remain unaddressed.

Like many such announcements before it, the Spring Budget underscores the emptiness of the Government’s past commitments to improving mental health care. Bringing no additional funding, resource, or even acknowledgement of the state of mental health care in the UK today: the Spring Budget does very little for us. 

The Government does not ask how we can support people to take the time they need, or how we can value people outside of the labour market. Instead, we are positioned as we always have been –  as a burden on the economy and, in turn, on society as a whole.