Insights from Labour Conference: The business case for mental health

Policies are easy to promise, particularly for the opposition party, and they always have a financial cost. One of the best ways of getting policy through the Treasury is to make the business case, to highlight the expected return on investment.

The economic case for an investment in mental health was made clear at the fringe events that Senior Consultant Tabitha Adams attended at the Labour Party Conference this week:

At an event entitled “The Long-Term Impacts of the Pandemic on Mental Health and the Case for Universal Care”, research by the Mental Health Foundation was shared that estimates ill mental health costs the UK economy on average £117.9 billion per year[1], or roughly 5% of GDP. Separate research from The King’s Fund shows that mental health problems account for almost a quarter (23%) of the total burden of disease in the UK[2]. Despite the huge cost to the system, panelists highlighted that hospital trusts will often ‘dip into’ their mental health budgets to plug gaps elsewhere. But as Rosena Allin-Khan, Shadow Cabinet Minister for Mental Health, said during one event: “It is a false economy not to invest in mental health”. It has a direct impact on the workforce, and organisations are losing an increasing number of working days due to mental ill health each year.

Of course, social and political pressure also helps to push policies through. Telling then, that the Mirror’s Political Correspondent Aletha Adu’s one question to Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Wes Streeting MP, at an event on Children’s Access to Healthcare and the NHS Backlog, was what a Labour government would do to tackle mental health.

The main Labour policy pledges on mental health are:

  • Recruiting 8,500 new mental health staff;
  • Guaranteeing mental health treatment within a month of referral;
  • Providing specialist mental health support in every school; and
  • Creating an open access mental health hub for children and young people in every community.

The second two points are focused on prevention, a buzzword of every event I attended on this topic, and the area Streeting said he was most often quizzed about by Keir Starmer. The Shadow Secretary of State also highlighted prevention with regards to mental health in his main conference address: “Because people can’t get the mental health support they need, they reach a crisis point” and linked it back to the economic argument: “which is worse for them and more expensive for the taxpayer”. Amongst the preventative solutions proposed at the fringe events was adapting therapeutic techniques to a non-clinical setting. This would include peer support and simple but effective methods such as ‘walking and talking’ therapy. It was pointed out that this form of social prescribing can also be more cost effective than the pharmaceutical alternatives.

In reference to schoolchildren, a panel member from Barnardo’s said the pandemic had caused a collective trauma for a generation, but I think that trauma is shared by almost everyone who experienced the pandemic. It has been suggested that one of the reasons so many thousands of people queued to see Queen Elizabeth II lying in state, was that it became a cathartic conduit for each individual’s trauma, bereavement, or anxiety from the last two and a half years.

The big agenda-stealing topics right now – the economy, cost of living crisis, the NHS backlog – all have an impact on mental health, and that will in turn have an impact on the economy and the NHS backlog etc. And it’s not only amongst those you’d expect. In financial wellbeing research we carry out on behalf of one of our clients, mental health and wellbeing comes out as a key concern amongst high net worth individuals year after year. An investment in mental health should result in returns for all, and the focus on this theme at the Conference suggests the Labour Party is open to ideas.

[1] Mental health problems cost UK economy at least £118 billion a year – new research (

[2] Has the government put mental health on an equal footing with physical health? | The King’s Fund (

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