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We need more than investment in services to solve the mental health crisis.

By Lea Milligan

It’s now widely recognised that there is a crisis in mental health. In September, a staggering 1.6m people in the UK are waiting for mental health treatment on the NHS, and 1 in 4 people globally are impacted by a mental illness at some point in their life.

This crisis is only being exacerbated by the increasing cost of living, global conflicts causing generational trauma and the ongoing fallout from COVID-19.

Lack of equitable access to services, treatment and resources means the most vulnerable in society continue to suffer disproportionately.

Everyone assumes that addressing this crisis requires more doctors, more appointments and more mental health treatment centres. Whilst one answer is, yes, we absolutely need more of these, it’s not the only answer.

More services are not the sole solution: We also need more research.

Mental health research is the secret weapon that often is overlooked by policy makers.

  • Research shows us where to focus resources, so that we don’t just blindly throw money and time at the parts of the system that are not working.
  • Research helps move people through the system faster, giving them more effective treatments and faster diagnoses.
  • Research reduces the number of people requiring acute care by providing effective prevention strategies and intervention methods.

Research speeds up access to services:

The EnCAMHS project, sponsored by Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust, is working to improve and refine the referral process to CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services). By mapping and raising awareness among professionals of the different types of support available for children and young people, the EnCAMHS team are hoping to reduce waiting lists and speed up access to care for the most urgent cases.

Research improves treatments:

I have seen firsthand the incredible breakthroughs in treatments that have come from targeted investment in research.

MQ researcher Dr Colette Hirsch from King’s College London developed a new treatment for anxiety and depression called cognitive bias modification for interpretation (CBT-I). New treatments such as this help provide a greater range of treatment choices, more important now than ever because, according to the World Health organisation, the pandemic triggered a 25% increase in anxiety and depression worldwide.

Dr Jennifer Wild from Oxford University has developed a new treatment for PTSD in health care workers, with a 90% recovery rate. This is an unprecedented success rate for a group highly vulnerable to traumatic stress.

And Dr Ethel Mpungu has developed a community-based therapy for people living with both depression and AIDS in rural Uganda. The 578 participants of her study remained symptom free from depression 12 months later. Her work has been internationally recognised and, due to its success and cost-effectiveness, it is being rolled out across other African nations, improving the lives of millions of people.

Research can help us prevent mental ill-health in the first place:

For example, the IDEA (Identifying Depression in Early Adolescence) project has created a prediction model to identify the young people who are most at risk of developing depression in later life. This tool can be used to identify the most vulnerable before depression can take hold, getting them timely interventions that can prevent a lifetime of mental ill-health.

This Mental Health Awareness Week (9-15 May), plenty of people will be talking about smashing stigmas, reducing loneliness and the need for more mental health support. And, of course, these are absolutely important. Vital even. But don’t forget about research.

Because it is only through research that we can truly make progress.

Lea Milligan is CEO of MQ Mental Health Research, a charity that funds world-class research and innovation to create better mental health care.

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Business

Offering certainty to an uncertain PRS

By Paul Foy, CEO, RentGuarantor

The UK private rental sector is facing growing uncertainty. The number of landlords offering properties had already dropped considerably when the government imposed the Tenant Fees Act in 2019, and now, following the pandemic and amidst the current cost-of-living crisis, we are on the verge of a rental crisis – with the average lettings agent having just 11 properties available to rent in July per member branch, and 127 new prospective tenants on average being added to the books.

With the number of properties available already limited, and the recent government whitepaper, ‘A Fairer Private Rental Sector’, proposing drastic changes that are expected to drive more landlords out of the market, tenants looking to move need to make sure they are in a position to make an offer quickly, or else risk losing out on their dream home.  This includes having enough money to pay the deposit, and in most instances providing a guarantor, which is easier said than done in the current financial crisis.

For landlords, the need for a guarantor is becoming ever greater with so many facing financial insecurity. As rising energy bills and higher costs of living continue to put strain on the British public, 400,000 households are already expected to fall behind on their rent payments, meaning landlords need to find a way of ensuring they can still receive rent payments – so as to cover their own costs and income. The issue, however, is that the crisis is affecting us all, and a friend or family member acting as a guarantor may well find themselves in a position where they are unable to pay the rent themselves.

Evictions aren’t beneficial for either party and, despite how they can sometimes be presented in the media, most landlords care about the wellbeing of those renting their properties. But with rent arrears being a top concern for landlords, and 78% of tenants being worried about how they will pay rent, there is a clear need for additional support to be extended to all within the private rental sector.

Extra security for landlords

The last few years have seen landlords subjected to a great deal of uncertainty around their rental properties. Changing laws, the pandemic and the current cost-of-living crisis have all come together to spur an increase in due diligence when looking at prospective tenants and the security of the tenancy. This has in turn led to an increased demand for tenants to have a guarantor, rising by 36% over the past 4 years.

As financial pressure mounts for many in the country, that need for a guarantor is only expected to rise, but with the increased living costs hitting the majority of people it can dampen the stability granted by a personal guarantor.

Instead, many landlords are recommending tenants use a company guarantor, offering them a guarantee that is underwritten by an insurance company, and providing an additional level of security to both the landlord and tenant. On top of this a professional guarantor service grants the landlord with the peace of mind that any situation arising from a tenant falling into arrears would be managed on their behalf – including eviction in the rare circumstances where it should come to that.

Additional support for tenants

As well as the benefits afforded to landlords, rent guarantor services also provide a much-needed lifeline for prospective tenants. With the private rental sector currently facing a major housing shortage, having the right provisions in place when making an offer could be the difference between securing or losing that dream home.

The service provided by a rent guarantor company means tenants can quickly provide a guarantor when needed, without having to negotiate any awkward or uncomfortable conversions with friends or family members, and can often have a completed application within minutes – only paying once the contract has been signed.

Additionally, the majority of these services offer the option to pay in instalments, taking away the pressure of paying a lump sum up front – which can be a daunting prospect in today’s financial climate. This can, through some companies, include an upfront deposit payment that can be added to the instalments, further reducing the cost burden tenants face and helping to streamline the moving process.

A necessary service in an uncertain sector

While relatively new to the UK, rent guarantor companies provide an important service, which guarantees landlords will receive their payments. In turn, this takes away the financial pressure and concerns of the tenant by granting them a reliable guarantor that will back them if they’re unable to afford rent. With many of these services underwritten by some of the UK’s largest insurance firms, they can provide an invaluable level of security during these difficult times.

While the future of the PRS is still uncertain, and there are likely to be many more hurdles to overcome in the near future, the services provided by rent guarantor companies can at least provide some respite during the current crisis we are facing – offering the extra support needed by both tenant and landlord.

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Business

How to prioritise your customers’ mental health by sharing vulnerability data

Source: Finance Derivative

Author: Tim Farmer, Co-founder and Clinical Director at Comentis

The Consumer Duty and its ramifications are certainly starting to permeate through the financial services sector as a whole. That being said, we still have a long way to go and for financial advisers to make truly informed decisions on the important topic of customer vulnerability, all parties involved in the distribution chain will need to work much more closely together.

Collaboration is key.

If all parties in the distribution chain start to share their vulnerability data more intelligently, and take a more joined-up approach, they will begin to offer a considerably improved customer experience. But most importantly, they will help to ensure that their customer feels truly safe when sharing their story. After all, having to go through the emotional turmoil of sharing their experiences again and again – to multiple different providers – is only going to cause the customer greater anxiety. In some cases, it may even lead to them feeling unsafe to share their story.

I believe safely sharing customer data around vulnerability can actually ease a customer’s anxiety, reduce their stress and help to engender long-term trust between customer and adviser. I would even go so far as to say that a lack of joined up thinking can, unfortunately, allow some incredibly vulnerable people to slip through the net. Ultimately, failing to share data that is this important will only be to the detriment of the individual.

Vulnerability assessments can vary.

When we look at a customer / adviser relationship, we will of course note that who the customer is speaking to and where that conversation takes place will affect the way they feel. For instance, they might open up during a vulnerability assessment because they feel like they’re in a safe space, but then may not in further vulnerability assessments because they don’t feel safe or simply don’t trust one of the other providers they’re engaging with.

Alternatively, the customer might believe that because they have already laid their vulnerabilities out to one provider, they shouldn’t need to do so again to someone else. After all, they might (understandably) assume that all salient information would be passed over.

The other concerning possibility is that when a person tells a difficult story again and again, they forget who they have told which detail to and leave certain elements out the next time they tell it, merely because that information has already been shared at another stage. You can begin to see, without a fully joined up approach, how much potential exists for important information to be dropped.

Why we need an industry standard.

So, what can be done? And upon whose shoulders should responsibility rest, to ensure that key details about a customer’s vulnerabilities aren’t missed?

What we need is an industry standard of information sharing, that works across all product providers. This not only needs joined up thinking, but smart ways of working from a technology point of view. Providers should be using the same platform for inputting key information, and indeed, for intelligently digesting the vulnerability data that comes out.

It’s here that I believe a triage system would really benefit the financial services industry. Creating a triage system, much like you would experience when a patient physically attends an Accident and Emergency room at hospital, would allow all the right information to be gathered upfront and then shared safely and correctly down the distribution chain. This would ensure that the customer avoids needless repetition, continues to feel safe sharing their story in a different setting and won’t have to worry about missing out a key detail. It will also take the emphasis off the customer, who is going to be feeling very raw and exposed and puts it back onto the providers. After all, this is their responsibility.

Put the customer at the heart of all decisions.

The key here is transparency, detailed disclosure and ensuring all providers adhere to the same technology and ways of working. A practical and pragmatic guide or industry standard recognised by all would of course be very beneficial too. Until then however, a collaborative solution by all providers must be agreed – and it must prioritise the customer.

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Business

KICKSTART YOUR SAVINGS WITH THESE TIPS

Source: Finance Derivative

By Shelley van der Westhuizen, financial well-being strategy & applied research at Alexforbes

We often hear people talking about short-term, medium-term or long-term savings. But as an individual or family, it may be more useful to think about what your savings are for, like saving for a home, or a holiday, rather than time-based goals. This approach also helps you work out how much you need to invest for each goal you’re saving for.

Financial Planning Month in October reminds us of the need to have financial goals and to work towards achieving them over time. While many of us are battling to afford our expenses, it can seem quite daunting to also think about saving. The first challenge is making it through the month spending less than you earn.

Your three most important savings questions

To get started, there are three questions that help you work out how much to save regularly:

  • What do I want or need to save for? This is the goal.
  • How much does it cost?
  • How much time do I have until I need the money? For example, you might work out that you need R100 000 for your child’s studies when they finish school, seven years from now.

Considering your various goals and different time periods, which financial products to use and factoring in your expected investment returns, you may begin to feel overwhelmed. This is where a qualified financial adviser can help with a suitable financial plan that you can put into action.

Some savings come first

While we can work on saving for different goals at the same time, we also need to prioritise and manage debt. If you’re worrying about your debt or spending most of your money on debt repayments or have some overdue accounts, it’s time to get help. In the Alexforbes financial courage survey, over 80% of respondents said that they spent most of their time worrying while dealing with their finances. Almost 75% of people attribute their financial stress to debt worries. This means that money worries caused by being over-indebted often interfere with work and quality of life.

The value of protection

One of the ways to avoid becoming over-indebted is to prioritise emergency savings. Having emergency savings is an important part of achieving financial goals because, even if you’re not over-indebted, it means that any other savings you have can be used for their intended purpose.

Once you’ve considered your expenses, including your debt, and have built up your emergency savings buffer against unexpected things going wrong, it’s time to consider your other savings goals.

One of your financial goals is to have enough to live on one day when you can’t work any longer. When Alexforbes asked people if they knew how much of their salary they needed to save to have enough to live on when they got older, 94% didn’t know. Most people would be surprised to find out that they need to save around 17% of their income for 40 years, and always keep their retirement savings invested. In this way, they can enjoy a pension that is about three-quarters of the salary they were earning just before they stop working. How much you need to save for retirement and other goals is a very important personal question that needs an answer and depends on your circumstances.

Being realistic

By the beginning of 2021 the number of people contributing regularly to their own savings had fallen by 28%. Moreover, the average savings amount of those still contributing regularly had decreased by 23%according to Deloitte, The State of the South African Consumer Tracker. If you’re struggling to make good progress towards your financial goals now, you’re not alone. It may be a good idea to invest your energy in what you can manage while times are tough like reducing your spending wherever possible or growing your skills.

End financial anxiety

According to The State of the South African Consumer, our consumers are the fourth most financially anxious in the world. Over 33% of consumers spend more than they can afford.Combined with taking more control of our finances by following some of these suggestions, spending less on nice-to-have items may be a good way to reduce any financial anxiety you might have and have more financial success ahead.

Knowing how much you’ll need is a first step towards knowing how much to save each month. There are some fun tools to help you discover this information for yourself, like the Alexforbes My Retirement Picture(https://retirements.digital.alexanderforbes.co.za/), that’s available to everyone.

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