Money and mental health: GPs are being urged to ‘prescribe debt advice’ to aid Covid recovery – iNews

The Government has been urged to tackle post-Covid inequalities by helping GPs prescribe debt advice and job support for patients struggling with their finances.
The Social Market Foundation (SMF) says financial prescribing, which enables the NHS to refer patients to non-clinical agencies like debt charities and jobs boards, could be a lifeline for those who have lost income during the pandemic and ease the workload of overstretched doctors.
The think-tank criticised a lack of “joined-up thinking” when it comes to improving financial resilience and access to jobs, calling on the Government to oversee and support a network of solutions that could be recommended to vulnerable consumers.
Currently, patients with social prescriptions may be referred to organisations that can help them get fit, connect with others, or find mood-boosting hobbies. NHS England aims to refer 900,000 people this way by 2023, with 1,000 “link workers” already in place.
But critics say financial prescribing is nowhere near the norm, with one survey finding just 2 per cent of people discuss their money problems with their doctor.
The SMF was commissioned to investigate the UK’s widening financial gap by Nesta Challenges, which has awarded crucial funding to two companies deemed to offer the most innovative financial tools in the wake of Covid.
Hastee, a platform offering immediate access to earned wages, and Udrafter, an online marketplace for student and graduate paid micro-internships, will share £900,000 in prize money.
The Rapid Recovery Challenge was launched in response to the financial fall-out from Covid and is supported by JP Morgan, the Money and Pensions Service and the Department for Work and Pensions.
Mental health in the workplace: Over half of employees admit to money worries with a call for more support
Tris Dyson, managing director at Nesta Challenges, told i that the winning tools are needed “more than ever”. He said: “The pandemic created a huge economic shock, laying bare and exacerbating pre-existing problems for people on low incomes and in precarious work.
“Our data found 30 per cent of people’s finances have worsened during the pandemic and unfortunately, with Christmas approaching and the furlough scheme ending this month, things could get a lot worse before they get better.”
Scott Corfe, research director at SMF, said: “The state now must turn its attention to supporting a recovery which prioritises employment and financial support for those hardest hit by the pandemic.
“The evidence is clear: rapid and personalised support is the best way to help people back into work and bolster financial resilience.”
Sue Anderson from debt charity StepChange said more than a third of its clients in 2020 had a mental health condition.
She said: “Many people delay seeking debt advice, unaware that it could be a helpful course of action for their wellbeing. GP signposting to non-health services that could help a patient’s situation offers real potential for problems to be tackled sooner and more holistically.”
Research by online advice platform OpenMoney found the UK’s awareness and referral gap, representing those who would benefit from advice but are unaware of free public guidance, currently stands at 15.1 million – up from 10 million in 2010.
Anthony Morrow, co-founder of OpenMoney, said: “In theory, it is a great idea for GPs and jobcentres to help people with issues that could impact their financial resilience, but in practice our research found few of us share this type of information with these organisations. Just 2 per cent of people had discussed financial problems with their doctor, and 1 per cent with staff at a job centre. Nearly half hadn’t talked to anyone.
“For this to change, there needs to be a greater willingness for the financial services industry, financial guidance organisations, employers, health services, local authorities and government to work together to encourage opportunities to talk about individual financial resilience, and to deliver and promote affordable, accessible financial advice.”
Besides social prescribing, the SMF’s report also calls for better official data, particularly on household finances, to identify where additional support is needed. It also wants to see regulators enshrine “consumer duties” in markets such as energy and telecoms, building on the approach recently proposed by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). The watchdog is currently consulting on how to make financial firms act more in the interests of their customers.
The report also recommends the wider use of digital “nudges” to help people reach their financial goals as well as online jobs boards targeted at job-hunters “poorly served” by current jobs websites, such as those with disabilities and those seeking their first job.
It also wants to see more online crowdfunding to help the homeless gain skills and employment and is pushing for open banking to be expanded to improve take-up rates for grants and speed up application times.
All rights reserved. © 2021 Associated Newspapers Limited.


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