Mental Health Problems (Household Debt)

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 22 February 2024.

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Photo of Paul Sweeney Paul Sweeney Labour

6. To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s response is to the analysis by Citizens Advice Scotland suggesting that over 660,000 people are experiencing mental health problems due to increasing household debt. (S6F-02847)

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

The Scottish Government remains deeply concerned about the impact of the cost of living crisis, especially on those who are already struggling with poor mental health and money worries. We know that that is leading to far more people seeking advice and support, which is why we support free welfare debt and income maximisation advice services, with funding of more than £12.5 million allocated this year.

Mental health remains a priority, and we have supported overall increases to mental health spend over the years. Through our 2024-25 budget, the Scottish Government and national health service boards will continue to spend in excess of £1.3 billion for mental health. More widely, recognising the pressures on household budgets since 2022-23, we continue to allocate around £3 billion a year to policies that tackle poverty and protect people, as far as we possibly can, during the on-going cost of living crisis.

Photo of Paul Sweeney Paul Sweeney Labour

Increasingly, people have nowhere to turn when their mental health deteriorates. Patients in some health boards have been waiting for more than 1,000 days to start psychological therapy, and one in four consultant psychiatry positions is vacant. The Government’s response is to cut £30 million more from the mental health budget, despite its already being £180 million adrift from the target. When will the First Minister’s Government start to take the crisis in mental health seriously and reverse the proposed cut to mental health funding in the budget?

The First Minister:

Let me correct Paul Sweeney on some issues in relation to our funding. We have a good track record on spending on mental health, in the face of 14 years of austerity. Under the Scottish National Party, mental health spending by NHS Scotland has doubled in cash terms, from £651 million in 2006-07 to £1.3 billion in 2021-22—up by almost 100 per cent. Expenditure on child and adolescent mental health services rose from £88 million in 2020-21 to £97.6 million in 2021-22. Of course we have had challenges in the budget that we have just announced, but we have ensured that we are doing what we can to invest in mental health.

Paul Sweeney was right to reference the Citizens Advice Scotland report. The cost of living crisis is undoubtedly a source of deep mental anguish for too many households up and down the country, and we will therefore continue to invest in mental health.

What is worrying is that Paul Sweeney’s party believes in, for example, retaining the two-child limit. The person who is likely to be the next chancellor of the United Kingdom has promised to be “tougher” than the Tories on benefits. Through our actions, we lifted an estimated 90,000 children out of poverty last year. The Scottish Government will invest in helping people with debt and in reducing the cost of living, but how much better would it be if we did not have to continue to mitigate the worst excesses and harm of Westminster but instead took all the decisions about Scotland here in Scotland?

Photo of Willie Coffey Willie Coffey Scottish National Party

Will the First Minister outline how increased funding—for example, on discretionary housing payments, which impact on mental health issues in Scotland—will help make up for the chronically insufficient UK housing benefits funding? Will he also outline how we in Scotland can maximise support for low-income households?

The First Minister:

Willie Coffey makes an exceptionally important point. The damage done by the UK Government’s three-year freeze to local housing allowance has been considerable, with an estimated £819 million lost. That, coupled with the cruel bedroom tax policy, is undoubtedly causing great harm.

Although the Labour Party is failing to offer any change to those devastating policies, the Scottish Government will take action. We are investing an additional £6 million in discretionary housing payments, bringing the total for mitigating all of those cuts to more than £90 million. That is helping more than 90,000 low-income households pay their rent and keep their homes.

The Presiding Officer:

We move to constituency and general supplementary questions.