Politics

Autumn Budget 2021: the crucial detail that was missing from Rishi Sunak’s plan

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Lauren Geall
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Rishi Sunak holding up the budget briefcase outside 10 Downing Street

Mental health charities have voiced their frustration that Rishi Sunak’s autumn 2021 Budget failed to recognise the need for greater funding for NHS mental health services – especially as demand soars after the pandemic.

Yesterday (27 October), Rishi Sunak unveiled his autumn 2021 Budget in the House of Commons. The Budget – which sets out the government’s tax and spending plans for the year ahead – included plans to raise the National Living Wage to £9.50 an hour, as well as tax relief for museums and galleries and extra funding for schools.

But despite all of these seemingly positive announcements, the Budget wasn’t particularly good news. 

Just this morning, living standards think tank The Resolution Foundation warned that the higher taxes outlined in the Budget would mean that, by 2026-27, tax as a share of the economy would reach its highest level since 1950 (amounting to an increase per household since Boris Johnson became Prime Minister of £3,000). And charities have also warned that the Budget failed to address a number of crucial areas – including the proper funding of NHS mental health services.  

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Taking to Twitter last night to raise concerns about Sunak’s failure to address mental health in his Spending Review, the mental health charity Mind said his “buoyant tone was completely at odds with the reality for so many of us with mental health problems”.

“Millions of us are now left with questions about a tough three years ahead,” the Twitter thread continued. “The impact of the pandemic on our lives has been vast – from bereavement, to unemployment, to disruption in schooling. We’ll see the effects of this for many years to come. People of colour, those living in deprivation, and young people are already being hit the hardest.

“The spending review has done little to put mental health on an equal footing with physical health. We are deeply disappointed by this.” 

In a statement, Vicki Nash, the charity’s head of policy, campaigns and public affairs, acknowledged that, while the Budget did reveal that spending on the NHS in England will increase by £44bn, urgent clarity is needed as to whether a “significant allocation” of this will be spent on improving mental health services.

“The evidence is clear – [with] increasing urgent and emergency referrals and a record number of people in contact with NHS mental health services in England, 1.6 million people on the waiting list and another eight million needing treatment but not meeting clinical thresholds – the nation’s mental health is at breaking point,” she said.

“As tough decisions are made on how funding for the health service is divided across the system, it is vital that the NHS and government acknowledge the ongoing mental health impact of the pandemic.” 

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With signs of the pandemic’s impact on the UK’s mental health already emerging – last week, analysis of NHS data from the charity Rethink Mental Illness revealed a 29% increase in the number of people being referred to NHS services for a suspected first episode of psychosis compared to pre-pandemic levels – it’s clear that more support is desperately needed.

Indeed, in a similar statement, Mark Winstanley, the chief executive of Rethink Mental Illness, said the charity was “disappointed and frustrated” that people living with severe mental illness had been “largely ignored” in the government’s plans for recovery after the pandemic.

“This budget and spending review will do little to address the issues fuelling our mental health crisis,” Winstanley said. “Sadly, the Chancellor provided no reassurance that the government has prioritised mental health or recognised the scale of the growing challenge we face given the increase in mental ill-health during the pandemic.

“With no clarity that mental health services will benefit from the funding announced, services will struggle and funding for social care will remain insufficient to address the pressures they are under.” 

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time.

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