In the middle of a cost-of-living crisis, something very worrying is happening that few people are aware of.
A national funding stream that has been supporting hundreds of vital community suicide prevention projects all across England is quietly running dry.
Samaritans is calling on the Government to use their new national suicide prevention strategy to turn this tap back on, before it’s too late.
Take action to support our campaign now: sign our petition.
Why is local funding so important?
When people think of suicide prevention, they usually think about clinical mental health services. But we know that two-thirds of people who die by suicide are not in touch with mental health services in the year before they die. This is why it’s so important that we think about suicide prevention in a broader sense. There are countless ways a local community can help someone before it’s too late – from education at school to chats with your postie; from your GP spotting some warning signs right through to support groups like local men’s choirs and other clubs that keep people connected.
It's vital that local areas have dedicated resources to continue their efforts to reduce deaths by suicide. Without this, suicide prevention is too often left behind in the context of overstretched local budgets.
The Government has taken some really positive steps in recent months, including committing to a new national suicide prevention strategy and announcing £10 million in funding for the voluntary sector, recognising the important role it plays in helping to prevent suicide. This is very welcomed, but sadly won’t replace the funding that local areas so desperately need.
What is this local funding?
The NHS Long Term Plan allocated £57 million for suicide prevention and bereavement services to local areas in England. This went out in ‘waves’, so that each local area received money for three years, with those areas with the highest suicide rates receiving it first.
“I know hand on heart, that with the knowledge I gained from the training I have prevented suicides.”
recipient of training in Cumbria, funded by this local funding
But these waves have been receding one after the other. By March next year, funding in every area from this pot for suicide prevention will end. But concerningly, since the areas with the highest rates received it first, those areas have already seen their funding come to an end.
What kind of things has it paid for?
Local areas have spent the funding on key suicide prevention priorities. These decisions are made based on their knowledge of their community and are often supported by local data and discussions with local groups and individuals with expertise and lived experience.
We can pick, for example, the area of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, where Steve Barclay MP’s constituency lies. Steve Barclay is Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.
In this area, the local funding has been spent on a wide range of suicide prevention measures, including:
- A paid Suicide Prevention Manager for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough to coordinate activity across the whole area.
- Training for GPs, and for non-mental health professionals across Cambridgeshire who are likely to come into contact with someone who’s suicidal, such as housing officials, employment officials or postal workers.
- Expansion of the Real-Time Suicide Surveillance system across the area, along with a cluster response plan. This means that if there was an increase in deaths from suicide in a specific group of people in North East Cambridgeshire, for example, a more targeted response could be swiftly mobilised.
Why are we so concerned about the funding coming to an end?
We are concerned that if this funding ends in March next year as is currently planned, local suicide prevention activity will likely need to be scaled back or stopped, putting an end to some services for people in communities across England with the highest risk of dying by suicide.
The Government is promising a bold new national strategy to save lives from being lost to suicide at the same time as failing to commit to providing vital local funding – this just doesn’t add up.
We’re in a cost of living crisis, and we know that people on the lowest incomes have a higher suicide risk. We saw an increase in suicide rates in the years following the 2008 recession. The end of vital suicide prevention funding right now is unacceptable. Suicide prevention can’t be done on the cheap.
Let’s focus in again on Steve Barclay’s constituency in North East Cambridgeshire. What would ending the funding in March mean for his constituents?
- The Real-Time Suicide Surveillance system may have to to reduce its scope and effectiveness, so local trends in suicide risk would be less likely to be identified in time to take action and save lives.
- The training that is currently being rolled out may also need to be reduced or stopped entirely. We know this training is currently leading to life-saving conversations, so halting this important preventative work in North East Cambridgeshire would have real repercussions.
- Some funding might be found from other local funding sources for this work to continue, but that would mean this vital suicide prevention work would have to compete with other issues and projects would likely be reduced, fragmented or made more short-term.
“I’ve personally seen the incredible impact this local funding has had. However, these changes take time to embed due to the stigma and complexity of self-harm and suicide prevention. Ending this funding stream now just makes no sense. To have a real impact on reducing suicide rates, a long-term commitment is needed so that both services and communities become suicide safer.”
Darren Archer, Network Manager (Mental Health), North East North Cumbria Clinical Networks.
What are we calling on the Government to do?
There have been changes to suicide rates over the last 20 years and much progress has been made, but suicide rates in England are as high now as they were 20 years ago. This is unacceptable. The new strategy is a rare opportunity to transform this picture and drive suicide rates down to the lowest rates ever recorded. But to do that we need to see bold, ambitious action from the Government. Ultimately, we need proper funding for the whole of the national strategy – as part of this, the Government must take urgent action to make sure communities don’t go without the funding they need for vital local suicide prevention.
Therefore Samaritans is calling on the Government to include ringfenced local suicide prevention funding in the upcoming National Suicide Prevention Strategy, with the original £57 million to be increased for the length of the strategy and in line with inflation. By comparison, the Government recently announced £421 million for new drug and alcohol services for England, which Samaritans welcomes.
Take action to support our campaign now: sign our petition to Steve Barclay.