Challenging the Mental Health Crisis: How Universal Basic Income can address youth anxiety and depression

Elliott Johnson, Aase Villadsen, Fiorella Parra Mujica, Hannah Webster, Riley Thorold, James Morrison, Jamie Cooke, Al Mathers, Howard Reed, Stewart Lansley, Tao Chen, Christodoulos Kypridemos, Martin O'Flaherty, Daniel Nettle, Richard Cookson, Kate E. Pickett, Matthew T Johnson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned reportpeer-review


We live in an age of crisis. Increasingly, there is understanding that the bases of our crises are material in nature: financial insecurity, poverty and inequality.

The cost of living crisis is hitting Britain at the worst possible time since World War II. The global financial crisis (GFC), austerity, Brexit and the pandemic have all reduced Britain’s economic, social and health resilience. National institutions and services are under unprecedented pressure and an increasing number of those in work are now also in poverty – a proportion that will increase significantly as a result of the cost of fuel.

Alongside this, there is a crisis in mental health among young people.

Between 1995 and 2014, the proportion of 16-24-year- olds in England reporting a longstanding mental health condition increased almost tenfold.
Reported rates of self-harm (5.3 percent to 13.7 percent) and attempted suicide (1.3 percent to 2.2 percent) also from 2000 to 2014 among 16-24s in the same surveys.
The consequences are a generation of young people affected by potentially avoidable forms of mental health problems while healthcare and public services become stretched to the point of breaking.

In England alone, there were 420,314 open referrals to child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) in February 2022, a 54 percent increase since the same month in 2020.
The trends are similar in Wales and Scotland and there is no sign of the crisis abating.

But I have been anxious quite a bit about money. Like in the future, am I going to be able to like, buy a house or have a comfortable lifestyle? If stuff goes downhill majorly it’s a big thing to be anxious about, in my opinion.

While policy has often understandably focused on improving coping strategies and increasing the efficiency of services, interest is growing in addressing the social drivers of anxiety and depression. A large body of evidence indicates that those health conditions are strongly affected by social determinants: Income; Wealth; Education; Social capital; Opportunity.

Given the government’s prevention agenda, policymakers are increasingly examining the role of cash interventions to avoid illness in the first place. While some GPs have called for cash prescriptions, a range of organisations, health bodies, community groups and politicians have called for trials of Universal Basic Income: a largely unconditional, regular payment to all adult permanent residents to support people’s basic needs.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherRoyal Society for the Encouragement of Arts Manufactures and Commerce
Commissioning bodyWellcome Trust
Number of pages44
ISBN (Electronic)9781911532644
ISBN (Print)9781911532644
Publication statusPublished - 21 Oct 2022


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