In the last week 2,500 people have signed our open letter asking government ministers to consider basic income as a mental health measure. Read on to find out how a basic income would work for our mental health and what we have planned next.
Last week was Mental Health Awareness Week. The time of year where we hear celebrities and organisations giving us advice on how to look after our mental health.
Nature walks. Yoga retreats. Scented candles. Meditation apps.
Yet there is far too little discussion about the links between mental health and the thing we’ve all worried about at some point in our lives: money.
“Money can’t buy you happiness” so the saying goes. But try telling that to people experiencing mental health challenges caused by poverty. Anyone that has ever struggled financially knows this has a profound, negative impact on your mental health. What if money then was the answer?
Mental illness is complex and doesn’t have a single solution. There are many factors that affect our mental health. To manage our mental health as individuals we need access to services, community, good work and basic resources. We need dependable, systemic solutions that are available to us all.
We can’t solve mental illness. But we can solve the financial insecurity that exacerbates mental ill health. And we can do this with a basic income. The idea of giving everyone in society a regular cash payment and in the process ensuring everyone has at least some level of financial security.
The Basic Income Conversation has partnered with the Basic Income Network Scotland to urge politicians, mental health charities and the public to explore the links between basic income and mental health.
From November last year to February 2021, we brought people together for the Peace of Mind project, supported by the University of Strathclyde and the Scottish Universities Insight Institute.
The project spoke to people who have lived experience of mental illness and using the benefits system and people who have received a basic income as part of a pilot.
Together with Basic Income Network Scotland and some of the project participants we’ve produced a video letter. It is addressed to the mental health ministers across all four nations in the UK calling on them to actively consider basic income as a preventative mental health measure.
It is an open letter — anyone can add their name. 2,500 people have signed the letter so far — and you can too. Just click this link and complete the form.
Mental Health Awareness Week coincided with the results of the recent elections in Scotland, Wales and England. As reported in the Guardian, basic income has been a top election issue with the likes of First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford, and Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham all backing basic income at the election. There are now strong progressive majorities for basic income and mandates for action in the Scottish and Welsh parliaments.
We will be sending the video letter to the newly appointed Welsh and Scottish mental health ministers when they are in post at the end of May. We’ll be seeking a meeting with them to discuss how basic income intersects with mental health and social security. And it’s the people involved in the Peace of Mind project who will be making the case.
Pilots around the world have over and over again shown that receiving a basic income can improve mental health and well-being. The evidence that shows even a low level of basic income can dramatically reduce poverty rates.
Read more in our Peace of Mind Report released last week. It draws on the stories of people’s everyday lived experience. Throughout the project we talked about the relationship between money and our mental health, how financial pressures can cause or worsen struggles with mental health and how this might change if we were receiving a basic income.
The key questions we kept finding ourselves asking were:
How am I supposed to look after my mental health when I don’t have any money?
And, how can I think about earning money when I am struggling with my mental health?
It was not expected that a basic income as an increase in income would lead to a uniform improvement in mental health across the population. Instead the mechanisms for impacting mental health were expected to be:
- Removing people from the means tested benefits system
- As a universal policy, reducing the stigma associated with receiving money from the social security system
- The peace of mind that a guaranteed income, of any level, would provide
- The regularity of the payment reducing uncertainty and financial insecurity
- A social security system that is more compassionate and user friendly
- An income provided that does not require a claims process
- Earned income being retained in addition to the basic income
- A changed relationship to paid work
You can watch more of their stories of money, mental health and basic income on our YouTube channel.
Our approach to mental health often puts the blame and the responsibility on the individual, rather than trying to fix our systems and find solutions as a society.
We believe that a society that prioritises mental health would guarantee everyone access to income.
We believe that a basic income should be seriously considered as a preventative mental health measure.
This Mental Health Awareness week we want to see the ministers responsible for mental health in the UK consider the role a basic income could play.
We’re calling on policy makers, mental health charities and politicians to join us in taking basic income from idea to reality.
If you work with a mental health charity and want to start a Basic Income Conversation with your teams and service users, check out our Toolkit designed to help you get started or get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
With a basic income we can get closer to peace of mind.