Mental health in the UK is about to get worse – and inequality will have a lot to do with it

The UK government’s recent mini-budget has been the subject of much criticism. Its effect on stock markets, pensions and the value of the pound has barely left the news. As a clinical psychologist, one issue which I find alarming, but which has barely been addressed, is the possible effect this will have on the mental health of the British public.

Specifically, I’m concerned about cutting the top tax rate, its effect on income inequality, and its effect on people’s mental health.

Reducing the basic income tax rate from 20% to 19% will have a very minimal effect on low and middle incomes, saving an average of £170 a year for 31million people. But scrapping the top 45% tax rate for those earning £150,000 or more will see the very wealthy with a lot more money.

Those earning a million a year will save over £55,000 a year from April 2023. Given that the average (median) UK salary for full-time workers is £31,461 (before deduction of taxes, pensions and national insurance), it is a big giveaway to high earners and a minimum to low earners at a time of record inflation and soaring energy bills.

Whatever your opinion on the evidence for trickle-down economics, you need to know what the research says about the impact of income inequality on health. The Spirit Level, a 2009 book by British economists Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson, shows that for developed countries a greater difference between rich and poor has a massive effect on things like obesity, infant mortality , imprisonment and murder rates.

Chart showing the relationship between the level of income inequality and the percentage of the population suffering from a mental illness. The Equality Trust

Countries with lower levels of inequality, such as Japan and Spain, generally have lower levels of these problems. Countries with higher levels of inequality, such as the UK and the US, generally have much higher rates.

This relationship also exists for mental health.

A World Health Organization study of 65 countries found that developed countries with a higher Gini index (an economic measure of income inequality) had higher rates of depression over a period of time. year, after controlling for demographic variables such as age and education. The most unequal countries had more than 50% higher prevalence of depression than the most equal countries.

Of course, just because two things are associated doesn’t mean one causes the other, but one study has concluded that there is strong evidence for a causal relationship between income inequality and health. For example, changes in income distribution predict later changes in public health, not the other way around.

The gap between rich and poor in the UK has risen steadily since the late 1970s, although it has fallen slightly in 2021. At a time of record inflation and stagnating wages, poor become much poorer. But the rich are getting richer, with pay for chief executives of the UK’s 100 biggest companies rising by 39% in 2021.

The latest budget will increase the gap between rich and poor. Add to that the fact that a recession is predicted, which is likely to worsen mental health, debt levels are likely to rise and people with mental health problems are more than three times more likely to suffer from mental illness. have unsecured debt such as energy bills or credit cards, and it’s clear who will take the brunt of the sanity of the cost of living crisis and the latest budget.

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