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

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 hardly gone unnoticed. As a clinical psychologist, one issue that I find alarming, but has hardly been discussed, is the possible effect this will have on the mental health of the British public.

Specifically, I’m concerned about lowering the top tax rate, what this will do to income inequality, and what this will do to people’s mental health.

Cutting the basic income tax rate from 20% to 19% will have minimal effect on low- and middle-income earners – an average saving of £170 a year for 31 million people. But abolishing the top 45% tax rate for those earning £150,000 or more will make the very wealthy hold much more cash.

Those earning a million a year will save more than £55,000 a year from April 2023. Given that the average (median) UK salary for full-time workers is £31,461 (before taxes, pensions and national insurance), this is a great gift. to the highest income earners and a minimum to the low income earners at a record time inflation and the sharp increase in energy bills.

Regardless of your views on the trickle-down economy evidence, you should know what the research says about the impact of income inequality on health. The Spirit Level, a book published in 2009 by British economists Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson, shows that for developed countries, a larger gap between rich and poor has a massive effect on things like obesity, child mortality, incarceration and homicide rates.

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Graph showing the relationship between the level of income inequality and the percentage of the population with mental illness. The Equality Trust

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

This relationship also exists for mental health.

A World Health Organization study of 65 countries found that developed countries with higher Gini coefficients (an economic measure of income inequality) had higher rates of depression over the course of a year, after taking into account account demographic variables such as age and education. The most unequal countries had more than 50% higher prevalence of depression compared to the most equal countries.

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

The gap between rich and poor in the UK has been rising steadily since the late 1970s, although it narrowed slightly in 2021. At a time of record inflation and stagnant wages, the poor are getting poorer. But the rich are getting richer, with a 39% rise in 2021 for CEOs of the UK’s top 100 companies.

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

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