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Social Justice

Martin Lewis: ‘The link between money problems and mental health problems is just so strong’

On Mental Health Awareness Week, Martin Lewis talks about the “vicious” relationship between money and mental health.

Martin Lewis is the nation’s guru when it comes to all things finances. And there’s no more important time for us to have a money saving expert than now, when the cost of living crisis is impacting so many people in society.

Often overlooked is how finances can impact a person’s mental health, and indeed, how their mental health impacts their finances.

“We have to remember it’s a symbiotic relationship,” Lewis told The Big Issue.

“Mental health problems can exacerbate your financial problems. Financial problems can exacerbate or cause your mental health problems. The two feed off each other in a vicious circle.”

In 2016, Martin Lewis established the Money and Health Policy Institute to research, lobby and come up with policies to break the toxic relationship between mental health issues and debt.

He said: “If you’ve got money problems, we want to minimise the impact on your mental health. Both the pandemic and the cost of living crisis are going to have a very damaging impact on people’s mental health, which will be tough to deal with.

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“And it’s worth saying this. We talk about mental health, not mental illness. You can have mental health issues that are not clinical.

“I always cite grief as a very obvious example. There are people who are grief stricken, who have really substantial problems with their mental health, but may not have a mental illness.

“We need to think about all the different things that affect the way that our mental health operates.”

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While mental health issues are complex and unique to each individual, Lewis believes there are practical changes that could be made to help many people.

He talked about bailiffs, and how they behave towards people who they are sent to collect from.

“You have rights if you’re a vulnerable customer with mental health problems be treated differently by bailiffs,” he said.

“Our research shows it’s possible­ that over 50 per cent of people who have bailiffs knocking at their door have mental health problems. The link between money problems and mental health problems is just so strong.

“Currently, the default setting is people shouldn’t be treated as vulnerable customers. But should we shift the default setting? Because the majority of people are likely to be vulnerable customers if bailiffs are coming to their doors.”

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The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute has made huge progress since it was founded. It has been instrumental in increasing the funding for face-to-face debt advice, stopping the most distressing debt collection letters being sent to vulnerable people, campaigned so now 90 per cent of current accounts have an option to block gambling payments.

Lewis explained: “What I wanted to do when I set it up is not have it just be about clever, wonderful and well-meaning policy wonks.

“I said you might think of it as a ‘think tank’ but I only care about it being a ‘do tank’.

“I’m only interested in research that can come up with practical solutions. That should always be the aim of what we do and then we put them to our research community.”

The institute liaises with a unique research community, made up of thousands of people who have experienced mental health issues.

Lewis continued: “When you have a policy institute, let’s be honest, you employ really clever people to come up with incredible ideas of how things can work. And often those are genius on paper. But when you talk to people with real world experience they’ll go, ‘Well that won’t work’.

“[The research community] is one of the reasons we’ve been so successful because it’s an amazing group of people who give us feedback on what we’re proposing.

“You learn so much from doing it that way and the charity’s become pioneering at working with a substantial lived experience community to make sure that our policy is rooted in the real world.”

Martin Lewis would like more people to join. To find out more click here.

Read more from Martin Lewis in an extensive interview coming soon in The Big Issue

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