The cost of living crisis is “heaping misery” on households this Christmas, with the poorest families twice as likely to suffer from depression.
A survey carried out by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) this autumn showed people’s mental health is suffering as a direct result of rising energy bills and double-digit inflation.
Food bank co-ordinators say many families feel “excluded” from Christmas this year because they can’t afford to take part in school parties or trips. Many are facing poverty for the first time.
The poorest 20% of households are twice as likely to have moderate or severe depression compared to the richest 20%, the survey found, while over a quarter of renters now have moderate depression.
The ONS also found that those struggling to afford energy bills are five times more likely to suffer from depression on a moderate or severe level and that those who were forced to spend less because of the rising cost of living were twice as likely to have moderate depression.
Last year, 18 million days were lost to mental illness, making it the biggest driver of economic inactivity in the UK. The days lost are estimated to have cost the economy £117 billion a year.
Rosena Allin-Khan, Labour’s shadow cabinet minister for mental health, said Liz Truss’s mini budget in September, which sent the financial markets into freefall and led to an increase in mortgages rates, had contributed to the crisis.
She said Labour would abolish so-called “non-dom” status — which allows foreign nationals living in the UK to avoid paying tax in this country on their overseas earnings—- and spend the money on the NHS instead.
“The disastrous economic policies of successive Conservative governments are heaping misery on millions this Christmas — but Christmas has come early for non-doms,” she told HuffPost UK.
“Labour has a plan to transform mental health services and prioritise prevention, by recruiting 8,500 staff in our first term, guaranteeing treatment starting within a month, providing access to a mental health professional in every school and a mental health hub in every community,” Allin-Khan said.
Charlotte White, who helps coordinate a foodbank in Wandsworth, said she had noticed an increase in people seeking support for their wellbeing through the foodbank.
“Many guests are struggling with their mental health, facing poverty for the first time as they suddenly find themselves unable to heat their homes and feed their families,” she said.
“More and more people are seeking support through our onsite wellbeing service.
“As Christmas approaches, I know that many of our families will be feeling particularly anxious. Whether it is paying for their child to attend the school Christmas party, school Christmas outing or buying a Christmas jumper for the non-uniform day, this year many will feel excluded.”
Separate analysis from Statista found that people living in the North East of England had the least money left to spend over Christmas after losing £189 of their disposable income this year.
They were followed by households in Wales, who will lose £168 and those in Northern Ireland who will lose £152.
One user at Little Village, a baby bank which operates across London, said Christmas this year would be “very, very difficult”.
“Christmas will just be a normal day,” they said.
“I can’t really afford to celebrate how I used to. I can’t afford gifts for the children, it’s very sad. My daughter will be even more sad. We won’t eat anything special.”
A Treasury spokesperson said: “We understand the impact that global price rises are having here in the UK and the toll that can take on people’s mental health.
“That’s why tackling inflation is this government’s number one priority, with a plan to more than halve inflation next year, and the typical household will save more than £900 as we hold down energy bills this winter.
“Over 8 million vulnerable households have received £1,200 in additional cost of living support this year, with a further £26 billion support package on the way next year – on top of increasing benefits in line with inflation, which is worth £11 billion to working age households and people with disabilities.
“It’s also vital that people can access mental health support during this challenging time, which is why have invested £500 million this year to expand provision of mental health services and address waiting times, as well as committing to an additional £2.3 billion in funding each year by 2024.”