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Councils only spend 1% of public health budget on mental health

Local authorities invest “close to nothing” on preventing mental health problems, with only 1% of their public health budgets going towards this, Mind has found today (9 November).

Using figures obtained through FoI requests, the charity found that some areas do not plan to spend “a single penny” on preventing mental ill-health this year.

Responses from several councils also showed that there is much confusion over what public health teams should be doing to prevent residents from becoming mentally unwell.

And although councils are required by the DCLG to publish their public health spending broken down by category, cash used for mental health services are still classified under ‘miscellaneous’ together with 14 other areas.

The charity argued that this ultimately undermines Whitehall’s rhetoric about promoting parity of esteem between physical and mental health.

Paul Farmer, the charity’s chief executive and chair of the ongoing Mental Health Taskforce, said: “Our research shows that current spend on public mental health initiatives is negligible. The fact that local authorities’ public health teams are allowed to file mental health under ‘miscellaneous’ when reporting on it perhaps explains why.

“It is not acceptable that such a small amount of the public health purse goes on preventing mental health problems. Having a mental health problem can impact on all aspects of our lives, from our relationships and work to our physical health. The personal costs are immeasurable, and the wider economic cost is huge.

“Prevention is always better than cure and ignoring the problem simply doesn’t make sense. We need local authorities to use their budgets to help people in their communities stay mentally healthy and reduce the chances of them becoming unwell.”

The charity is now calling on the department to signal to all public health teams that mental health must be prioritised and correctly labelled under its own category. As a first step, Mind also published a best practice guidance outlining some initiatives that councils could commission to help people stay mentally healthy.

But the LGA argued that councils already do a “huge amount of positive grassroots work” that have a major knock-on effect on mental health, including work on obesity, physical activity, smoking and drinking.

The LGA’s community and wellbeing spokesperson, Cllr Izzi Seccombe, said: “It is wrong to look at mental health funding in isolation without considering the range of other services councils provide that directly impact on people with mental health issues.”

She also reminded the charity that the government recently confirmed £200m cuts to local public health budgets last week, despite the fact that councils only recently took over this responsibility.

Ultimately, Seccombe said, this means councils cannot be expected to reverse “decades of underinvestment” in mental health spending by successive governments overnight.

“Local authorities have a finite budget and many competing health priorities. What is needed is a holistic approach to mental health, which involves providing a range of different services,” she concluded.

In terms of overall NHS spending, mental health (including patients with dementia) is the largest single disease category of NHS expenditure, at £11.48bn in 2012-13, compared to £7.02bn for heart and blood circulation, and £5.78bn for cancer and tumours, including prevention. However, mental health still consumes only 11% of the NHS budget even though mental health problems account for 23% of the overall ‘disease burden’ in the UK.


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