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People queuing outside Barclays bank

Multiple long-term conditions

Health and money

Exploring the impact of finances on our health

Introduction

There are clear links between our physical, mental and financial health. Research and the voices of people living and working in our place tell us that, for many, health issues and problems with money exacerbate each other. Uncertainty and worry about finances matter as much for health as the effects of living on a low income.

For example, people with long-term health conditions often have less, or a more precarious, income – due to being too ill to work or work regular hours – and more expenses on medication, transport, a special diet, physical exercise to manage pain and ways to keep emotionally well. Conversely, money problems can mean scrimping on food, heating or other essential items and can increase a person’s stress and anxiety.  These fluctuating and unpredictable pressures impact on our physical and mental health.

The burden of managing health can reduce our ‘mental bandwidth’ to deal with ever changing financial challenges. That burden is unequally distributed in the population, as poor health and financial difficulty jointly affect people in some neighbourhoods more than in others.

Influences on finances and health

Money and health difficulties affect some people more than others and can be influenced by both neighbourhood and ethnicity. For example, people from Black-African, Black-Caribbean and other Black communities across the UK are more than twice as likely to be struggling financially and more than three times as likely to live in a household that is behind on bills or rent.

The economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic are that people from Black communities are now more than twice as likely to anticipate difficulties paying their usual bills and expenses (ca. 34% of Black respondents vs. 14% national average). Single parent households are another group at higher risk, given they are twice as likely as coupled households to live in poverty.

Currently, many people do not get the support they need to manage their finances until debts, and associated stress, anxiety and depression, are mounting up. Support often comes too late and fails to address underlying issues. Even when it is addressed, financial difficulty is tackled in isolation and often without considering its negative impact on health.

My financial situation can almost dictate how I feel for the rest of the day, like if I have extreme mood swings or panic attacks sometimes, extreme anxiety, you know… (Daliya, financial diarist)

It is vital we start to recognise and act decisively on the connection between health and money. We believe treating people’s financial health in tandem with their physical and mental health will benefit local people and help to create healthier communities.

The work that Impact on Urban Health and others do is absolutely crucial, because it gets into the details of people’s lives and helps government, which can seem one step removed from day-to-day life, understand precisely how policies can be delivered and delivered most effectively.

Joe Surtees Head of Debt Policy, Government Debt Management Function, Cabinet Office

What we're doing

We’re investing in innovative ways to address the dual challenge of health and financial health. We are engaging with local and national health, welfare and finance organisations and exploring new ways of working with employers, creditors, landlords and community groups. We invite professionals from all sectors to see the health impact of their work and help build trusted relationships within communities to get health and financial health right for people.

In future, we will build on the investment examples outlined in this report, with diverse partnerships that break the link between poor finances and poor health. We’ll test if easing the financial pressures in people’s lives can be good for health and slow the progression from one to many long-term conditions.

Get the full report

Explore how work, money and homes can make our cities healthier and fairer

Download it here (6.65 MB)