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Local councils still spending ‘negligible’ amounts on mental health

Local authorities still spend less than 1% on average of their public health budget on tackling mental health issues, with some spending nothing at all, according to new figures.

The mental health charity Mind contacted all 152 local authorities using Freedom of Information Act requests to find that the proportion of councils’ budgets used on mental health has fallen year-on-year for the last three years.

The figures showed that 13 local councils spent nothing at all on preventing mental health problems in 2015-16, with the overall proportion of mental health spending falling to 0.9% that year from 1.4% in 2013-14.

Some councils plan to spend no money on mental health in the forthcoming year.

Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, said: “Our research shows that the current spend on public mental health initiatives is negligible. This can't continue. Prevention is always better than cure and ignoring the problem simply doesn't make sense. Investment could stop people who aren't unwell developing mental health problems in the future.

“It is not acceptable that such a small amount of the public health purse goes on preventing mental health problems. It undermines the government's commitment to giving mental health equality with physical health.”

Local authorities were given responsibility for improving mental and physical public health in April 2013, yet appear to be neglecting mental health despite spending millions on sexual health, obesity and stop smoking services.

As of next year, councils will have to report to the Department of Health how much of their budgets are spent specifically on mental health. At present, mental health is categorised as “miscellaneous” alongside 14 other areas, a generalised approach which Farmer suggested could hamper prevention. 

“One in four people will experience a mental health problem every year, yet so much of this could be prevented by targeted programmes aimed at groups we know to be at risk, such as pregnant women, people who are isolated, people from black and minority ethnic and rural communities, or those living with a long term physical health problem,” he added.

Izzi Seccombe, chairwoman of the LGA’s community well-being board, argued that mental health funding should be looked at alongside other health initiatives provided by councils, rather than in isolation, and drew attention to underinvestment by central government.

In the government’s estimated public health budget for council services in 2016-17, only £47,000 of the £3.5m total is earmarked for public mental health – despite mental health being responsible for up to 28% of the total burden of health problems, according to the Mental Health Foundation.

“Local authorities do a huge amount of positive grassroots work including tackling obesity, and helping people to get active, stop smoking and cut down on drinking. As physical and mental health are inextricably linked, this has a major impact,” Seccombe said.

“Councils, who only took over responsibility for public health just over three years ago, cannot be expected to reverse decades of underinvestment in mental health spending by successive governments overnight.”

According to Seccombe, councils have budgeted to spend £46m on public mental health in 2016-17. This is despite central government cutting funding for mental health by over £330m since 2013-14, a reduction of almost 10%.

In response, a Department of Health spokeswoman commented that Mind’s figures do not show “the full picture” for government mental health spending, with trusts, councils, third sector organisations and NHS England all playing a role in providing services.

“We are determined that the increase in NHS funding reaches frontline services. That's why we have committed commissioners to increase their spending on local mental health services, at least in line with the growth of their overall funding,” she concluded.

(Image: c. David Cheskin PA Wire Press Assoication Images)

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