A recent study by the Centre for Longitudinal Studies at the UCL Institute of Education found that people on zero-hours contracts were 50% more likely to report they suffered from mental health problems. They were also more likely to suffer from poorer health. 

People on zero-hours contracts are more likely to be young adults, women, part-time workers and those in full-time education. Despite working an average of 25 hours a week, it seems that employment for those in this group does not guarantee better life outcomes.

The link between money and mental health has long been established. For example, money worries are in the top three causes of stress in the UK (the other two being family and relationship issues) and are also one of the top reasons for absence from work (absenteeism) or low productivity at work (presenteeism).

The emotional and psychological strain caused by financial stress takes its toll, leaving people feeling depressed, anxious, and unable to sleep. The physical implications of this are obvious; depression and insomnia depletes our energy, and causes a decline in cognitive function, making focus and concentration much harder. But financial stress can also lead to other physical health problems as people cut back on things like food and fuel in order to pay other bills. A common cold in the winter could develop into something more serious like pneumonia if you can’t afford to turn your heating on.

This should concern those who are providing support into employment, and those who support young people into employment in particular. Young people are already more at risk of problem debt due to student loan debt and because they are more likely to live in the private rented sector and be on low wage or zero-hours contract. The Money Advice Trust has estimated that more than 1.8 million young people under 25 are falling into financial difficulty as they take their first steps into adult life. This new economic reality is having significant consequences for young people’s financial well-being and may even become a barrier to employment. Therefore, employment support will need to consider the financial needs of individuals in the context of a labour market that is increasingly insecure, short-term and ever changing.

Having a financial well-being strategy would ensure a more sustainable route into employment and reduce the chances of mental health problems occurring. A financial well-being strategy would see organisations providing seamless, wrap-around support to address a range of financial needs and challenges. This would include support, information and referrals to local debt, money and benefits advice services, affordable and ethical forms of credit, social tariff schemes that help reduce water and utility bills, charitable grants to help with emergency costs (like replacing broken white goods), and other community-based schemes that help low income households with the costs of living. It would also include providing money management support which helps people manage financial complexity and make informed choices about how best to optimise their financial health. This support will likely need to include some coaching elements which help people identify personal goals, deal with negative emotions, and engage in new financial behaviours.

A financial well-being strategy alone cannot overcome all of the challenges associated with these new economic realities, but it can go some way towards creating a more positive link between work and well-being.