A recent parliamentary briefing (1) has estimated that the cost to Scotland’s economy from mental health problems is £1.9bn in treatment alone, and rises to £3bn when the economic impact of the inability to work is taken into account. This report also highlights the inequalities in mental health across Scotland, with those in the most deprived areas being twice as likely to suffer from anxiety as those in the least deprived areas, and four times as likely to commit suicide. By introducing a basic income to give everyone a greater degree of financial and social security it is easy to see how a reduction in financial inequality could contribute to a reduction in the incidence of anxiety and suicide in deprived areas. As well as representing an improvement in the quality of life for the affected individuals this would also provide an economic benefit to Scotland by reducing the costs listed above.

A 2013 poll conducted across Europe and the UK concluded that about half of workers suffer from work stress, with job insecurity a leading cause (2). If the forecast for job losses to automation is correct we expect to see much greater job insecurity in the future which will only exacerbate the problem. Adopting a basic income as a mechanism to reduce the financial insecurity affecting our nation, even when in work, would have positive health benefits for Scotland, as well as to our economy.

Poor physical health and premature death is also strongly linked to poverty. The Scottish Public Health Observatory calculates that the ‘healthy life expectancy’ (what age somebody will on average live to before falling into poor health) was 48 years old for the most deprived 10% of Scotland in 2014, over 24 years shorter than in the least deprived (3). Life expectancy as a whole is seven years shorter for men and four years shorter for women, but when this is considered together with healthy life expectancy it shows that those in the most deprived areas will live almost two decades in poor health at the end of their lives. Moral imperatives alone should spur us to address this inequality with a basic income, although the potential savings to made to the NHS from preventing poor health should not be ignored.

Introducing a basic income to reduce inequality and prevent poverty would improve mental health and reduce health inequality.

(1) – SPICe Briefing – Mental Health in Scotland

(2) – EU-OSHA – Psychological risks and stress at work

(3) – ScotPHO – Healthy life expectancy: deprivation deciles

Read about basic income and the Poverty Trap >