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UK Adult Financial Wellbeing Survey 2021: Mental Health Report

Evidence type: Insight i


Financial wellbeing is about being financially resilient, confident and empowered. The Money and Pensions Service (MaPS) set out five Agendas for Change in its UK Strategy for Financial Wellbeing 2020-2030 – Financial Foundations, Nation of Savers, Credit Counts, Better Debt Advice and Future Focus – each with its own National Goal for 2030.

There is already an established link between money and mental health and, as such, mental health is identified by MaPS as a theme which cuts across all of the Agendas for Change. This study sought to explore these links and the groups affected in 2021, particularly in the context of the financial and mental health impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and the measures that contribute to the National Goals.

The definition of mental health problems was operationalised in two different ways for the study: people saying that they had experienced problems with in the last three years (which applied to 30% of people according to the study); and self-reported limiting long term conditions or disabilities related to mental health (applying to 17% of people).

The study

This report describes the results of analysis by the Money and Pensions Service of the 2021 UK-wide Adult Financial Wellbeing Survey to explore the groups who are most affected by mental health problems and the links between mental health and financial wellbeing, especially where these relate to the National Goals.

The 2021 Adult Financial Wellbeing Survey was a survey by Critical Research of 10,306 adults (ages 18 and over) living in the UK. Data were collected using a mixed-mode approach between July and September 2021: mainly via online panels, with additional online survey completion via postal invites and paper survey completion via postal invites (postal invites returned a total response rate of 4.5%). Over-sampling of the devolved nations, quota sampling and stratified geodemographic profiling were undertaken and the final data were weighted to be representative of the UK adult population along geographic, demographic and socio-economic dimensions and internet usage.

The analysis reported here focusses on the 3,326 respondents who reported experiencing mental health problems in the last three years (representing about 30% of UK adults) and, where appropriate, makes comparisons to the nationally representative sample of all UK adults.

Key findings

This study reports differences that are statistically significant where p<.05.

  • Levels of mental health problems: 30% of adults reported having had mental health problems in the last three years, an increase from 21% in 2018.
  • Groups most likely to experience mental health problems: 38% of 18-65-year olds (and 64% of 18-24 year olds) report recent problems compared with 5% of the over 65s.
    • Rates were also comparatively high among single parents (51%), those with other long-term health conditions or disabilities (58%), those with household incomes of less than £13,500 (47%), renters (42%), and people of Mixed ethnicity (54%).
  • Links with financial wellbeing: People reporting mental health problems were more likely than average to report having problems meeting their financial commitments, for example, to be using a credit card, overdraft or borrow money to buy food or pay bills because they have run out of money very or fairly often (32% vs 17%).
    • 55% of people reporting mental health problems reported saving regularly (i.e. every month or most months, vs 61% of all adults) and 57% had less than £1,000 in personal savings (vs 43% of all adults).
    • 63% of people reporting mental health problems did not feel confident managing their money (vs 45% of all adults) and 78% were not satisfied with their overall financial circumstances (vs 66%).
    • People reporting mental health problems were less prepared for retirement than average, for example, to feel they understood enough to make decisions about retirement (44% vs 47% of all adults).

Points to consider

  • Methodological strengths/weaknesses: While the report does not cite confidence intervals or statistical significance testing, further information provided by the authors confirms that all differences that are reported are statistically significant at the 95% level of confidence (p<.05).
    • Although the overall sample is large, the sample sizes that relate to specific findings are not given.
    • The authors note in the technical report that non-internet users are under-sampled in the data and that people completing paper-based surveys may have had a different survey experience.
    • The report identifies correlational links between mental health and financial wellbeing only, not causal links.
  • Generalisability/ transferability: The patterns of findings which relate to financial wellbeing and mental health (if not the extent of self-reported mental health problems within the population) are likely to generalise well to contexts outside of the UK with similarly advanced economies and comparable social structures.
  • Relevance: The measures of mental health that are used in the study rely on self-report and do not necessarily reflect diagnoses.
    • The authors attribute higher levels of mental health problems in 2021 compared with 2018 to the Covid-19 pandemic, although this appears to be based on correlation only.
    • The findings for the National Goal measures are not specifically noted, however three measures are covered in the report (Nation of Savers, Credit Counts, Future Focus).
    • The study is likely to be of relevance to researchers, policy-makers and practitioners who are interested in the links between self-reported mental health problems and financial wellbeing across a range of measures.
Contact information

Money and Pensions Service, Holborn Centre, 120 Holborn, London, EC1N 2TD, 01159 659570Money and Pensions Service