New data from the Office for National Statistics has shown that 4.6 million people in the UK endured persistent hardship in 2015. The numbers soared by 700,000 in a year, with close to a third of the population experiencing hardship.
This latest news chimes with the government's own official household data which in March revealed that child poverty in the UK to be at the highest level since 2010. When almost a third of the population are living in the shadow of poverty, we have to ask about the impact this will have on the mental health of our nation's children and young people.
The links between poverty and mental health are well established. A report by the Mental Health Foundation found that poverty increases the risk of mental health problems and can be both a causal factor and a consequence of mental ill health.
Against a backdrop of austerity, our own survey of members of the Children and Young People's Mental Health Coalition found that nearly three quarters of the organisations surveyed (43) said that in the last two years' the mental health problems young people have presented with have become more severe.
Many of the organisations attributed this to higher thresholds to access Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and children experiencing greater hardships due to austerity.
Although the government often talks about a record 1.4bn investment in Children and Young people's mental health services, our survey also painted a worrying picture about the impact of increased funding in the sector. Less than 1 in 5 organisations (11) reported directly receiving an increase in income and just two organisations said that increased funding has made a big difference.
It is often said that it's better to have a fence at the top of the hill than an ambulance waiting at the bottom. The fence we're calling for is greater integration within the system. We can't continue fire-fighting a mental health crisis while failing to address the root causes of mental ill-health such as poverty and inequality. With so much clearly working to undermine the nation's mental health, we have to stop looking at mental health in isolation.
Benefit changes recently proposed by government for example could have pushed an additional 200,000 children into poverty. Thankfully the High Court ruled that these proposed changes were unlawful. We need to see government departments working together, including health, education, justice and work and pensions.
The Coalition is calling for the Prime Minister to establish an implementation taskforce across these departments, pulling together Ministers to ensure that the impact of one department is not undermining the work of the other and that mental health does not fall by the wayside in this period of political turmoil. The future prosperity of the country depends on us getting this right. We need to ensure that children are growing up with good mental health so that they can fulfil their potential.