This is a discussion paper which examines the impact of austerity policies on the provision of mental health services in the United Kingdom. Austerity is a shorthand for a series of policies introduced by the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Coalition government in the UK from 2010 onwards. In response to the fiscal crisis following the bail out of the banks in 2008, it was argued that significant reductions in public spending were required. The background to these policies is examined before a consideration of their impact on mental health services. These policies had a disproportionate impact on people living in poverty. People with health problems including mental problems are overrepresented in this group. At the same time, welfare and community services are under increasing financial pressures having to respond to increased demand within a context of reduced budgets. There is increasing recognition of the role that social factors and adverse childhood experiences have in the development and trajectory of mental health problems. Mental health social workers, alongside other professionals, seek to explain mental distress by the use of some variant of a biopsychosocial model. The extent of mental health problems as a one of their measures of the impact of inequality. More unequal societies create greater levels of distress. There is a social gradient in the extent of mental health problems—the impact of severe mental illness means that many individuals are unable to work or, if they can return to work, they find it difficult to gain employment because of discrimination. The paper concludes that austerity and associated policies have combined to increase the overall burden of mental distress and marginalisation within the UK.
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