Multiple long-term conditions

How essential services can help customers during the cost-of-living crisis 

15 August 2022
4 min read

Responsibility for health goes beyond our personal choices and circumstances. The services we use also play a role.

Erel Onojobi
Erel Onojobi
Portfolio Manager

Our health is not only about healthcare, it is driven by life - including factors such as our homes, work, and our finances. In our multiple long-term conditions programme at Impact on Urban Health, we look at how we can make sure that our health is not determined by our wealth.  

We know that for many people on lower incomes, health issues and problems with money go together. But responsibility for healthy minds, bodies, and finances goes beyond our personal choices and circumstances. Landlords, councils, banks, phone companies, energy providers – anyone we owe money to – share some of this responsibility with us.  

We have a right to good health and a right to be treated fairly. The systems in place for how we communicate with these organisations, whether it is in person, online, or over the phone, must take our health into account.  

In the context of the cost-of-living crisis, this is especially pressing and made worse by existing inequalities. The Resolution Foundation recently reported that the poorest households are experiencing an inflation rate of 10.6 per cent, compared 9 per cent for the richest tenth. Those with the least are already being hit the hardest – and household bills make up large share of their monthly outgoing. 

Therefore, research into how essential services firms – like banks, telecoms, and energy suppliers – can support our health is so important.  

How businesses can better support their customers’ mental health

We supported the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute (MMHPI) to look at how essential services can find better ways to relate to their customers in line with the Equality Act 2010.  

The MMHPI’s report Time to Act: The Equality Act shows that people with mental health problems can find it much more difficult than others to manage things like budgets and bills, with many facing challenges that include severe ‘admin anxiety’. This can create a cycle of poor mental and financial health that is hard to break free from.  

As a starting point, MMHPI recommends seven adjustments that service providers can make to better support customers: 

  1. The option to opt out of certain communications channels 
  2. Simplified versions of written communications 
  3. Reminders 
  4. Money management tools 
  5. Adjustments to help customers feel in control when staff visit their home 
  6. Extra help with decision making 
  7. Flexibility in who can communicate on behalf of the account holder

While the recommendations are aimed at supporting people with mental health problems, they also provide better care for disabled people and other people in need of more accessible communications.  

But these adjustments are just part of what customers, especially those on low incomes, need to maintain their mental, physical, and financial wellbeing in 2022 and beyond.  

Coping with the cost-of-living crisis

People falling behind on bills are likely to experience elevated levels of stress over the coming months, increasing the risks to their mental health and potential to develop other long term health conditions. This makes the cost-of-living crisis not just an economic crisis, but a health equity crisis as well. 

While the UK government is offering welcome support this year in the form of a £650 cost-of-living payment and £400 energy grant, these payments will not be enough for all households to stay afloat and out of debt. More needs to be done to support those already on low incomes.  

MMHPI’s toolkits and vulnerable customer policies and guidance from the Financial Conduct Authority are helpful foundations for businesses to start learning about how to have more thoughtful relationships with their customers. However, exploring the role of companies to protect our health has only just started.  

Find out more

Find out more about how the multiple long-term conditions programme is supporting frontline organisations during the cost-of-living crisis. If you want to get involved in developing innovative solutions to improve financial health, please get in touch.

Barbara Reichwein

Questions about our multiple long-term conditions programme?

Get in touch with Barbara Reichwein, our Programme Director.