moneyLocal authorities spend on average less than 1% of their public health budget on mental health, and 13 of them spent nothing at all on preventing mental health problems this year, research has found. 

Data obtained by mental health charity Mind under the Freedom of Information Act also found that the amount allocated has fallen for the last three years, with local councils spending an even smaller proportion of their budget on mental health year-on-year.

Local authorities have a remit to promote good physical and mental health in the communities they serve. While local authorities spend millions of pounds on physical health programmes, Mind’s findings show that most areas of the country spend close to nothing on preventing mental health problems.

Local authorities are required by the Department of Health to report on their public health spending against a set list of categories, including sexual health services, obesity and stop smoking services. From April 2017 local authorities will have to report on what they spend on public mental health, which is currently reported as part of a miscellaneous category that includes 14 other areas. Mind’s figures show that the proportion of the public health budget spent on mental health has dropped every year for the last three years, from 1.4% in 2013-14 to 0.9% in 2015-16. 

Mind also found that some areas don’t plan to spend a single penny on preventing mental health problems this year. It is conservatively estimated that poor mental health carries an economic and social cost of £105 billion a year in England.

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. One in 4 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 BAME [Black and Minority Ethnic] and rural communities or those living with a long-term physical health problem.

“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. 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.”

However, Izzi Seccombe, chairman of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board, said that it was 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. “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,” she said. “As physical and mental health are inextricably linked; this has a major impact. 

“Councils have budgeted to spend £46 million on public mental health in 2016/17. This is despite having funding cut by central government by more than £330 million over the next four years – a reduction of 9.7%.

“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. Local authorities have a finite budget and many competing health priorities.

“What is needed is a root and branch overhaul of mental health services that focuses on prevention.”