For so many people, financial insecurity is a constant in their lives, curtailing their life chances and causing chronic stress. As I have argued before, universal basic income could be one way to lift people out of this situation, especially during these days of COVID-19.
I have recently been leading a Scottish Universities Insight Institute project to explore universal basic income’s potential to improve mental health. You can learn more about the project here. We’ve run some workshops where we’ve encouraged our participants to talk about how financial insecurity has impacted their mental health. Some of the stories are incredibly powerful and I hope to share them with you soon. But the experience also spurred me to think about times in my life when financial insecurity or other types of insecurity have had an impact on me.
I didn’t grow up in poverty. But there was a period during my childhood when my dad left a steady job to start a new career, which relied on commission. This was during the mid-1980s, when the economy in Alberta, where I grew up, wasn’t so good. While my dad waited for his new career to take off (which it eventually did), there was a period of a few years where my parents had very little money and had to spend all their savings (including the pension from the steady job my dad had left) in order to stay afloat.
My folks did a pretty good job of hiding this from me and my younger sister. But there were signs.
For example, I remember always having patches on my jeans. Not just one or two, but up to six on each pair of jeans—patches layered over patches, usually on the knees. I thought this was pretty cool at the time. Looking back, however, I realize that patches were a lot cheaper than a new pair of jeans.
Probably the most obvious example of our financial problems came in the spring of 1984, when my beloved Edmonton Oilers made it to the Stanley Cup Finals against the dreaded New York Islanders. The week before the series started, one of my sister’s friends was over and accidentally bumped into the back of our television. It fell to the floor and the screen smashed into a million pieces. I begged and begged for a new television so that I could watch the playoffs, but we simply didn’t have the money. I listened to the series on the radio, until the final game when I convinced my parents to let me go over to a neighbor’s to watch (we won, in case you didn’t know!).
There was another hockey-related clue, too. In western Canada, everyone plays hockey. Even the “nerdy” kids that I hung out with played until they were 11 or 12. Everyone, that is, except me. It was simply too expensive to get me kitted out in pads and skates and drive me around the province. I don’t regret much about my childhood, but I can’t lie that I still wished I’d had the chance to play Canada’s game.
And then there were the arguments my parents had. They didn’t happen often, but when they did, they were always about money. Still married after 50 years, I doubt they have had a serious argument since the mid-80s, when our financial situation was so perilous.
So, what impact did all this have on my mental health? Not too much, I am glad to say.
But it did make me very averse to financial risk, to the point that—when I had the opportunity to change my career by coming to the U.K. and undertaking a Ph.D., I was unwilling to do so if it meant taking on any kind of debt.
Luckily I received a studentship and haven’t looked back. But whenever we have had to negotiate our immigrant status here in the U.K., that deep feeling of dread—of everything potentially falling out from under you─returns with a vengeance. It’s not a nice feeling.
And yet, for so many people, financial insecurity isn’t just a few years in their childhood that they don’t really remember.
It is a constant in their lives, curtailing their life chances and causing chronic stress. As I have argued before, universal basic income could be one way to lift people out of this situation, especially during these days of COVID-19.
At the very least, we should be more honest about the role financial insecurity plays in affecting our mental health.
Matthew Smith, Ph.D. is a lecturer Wellcome Trust Research Fellow at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow.
To see original article please visit: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/short-history-mental-health/202102/stories-financial-insecurity-and-mental-health