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Suicide prevention: Policy and strategy (979 KB , PDF)
Warning: This briefing discusses suicide and self-harm, which some readers may find distressing.
Suicide rates in the UK
In 2021, England had the lowest rate of suicide in the UK. The age-standardised mortality rates across the UK in 2021 were:
- 10.5 deaths per 100,000 people in England
- 12.3 deaths per 100,000 people in Wales
- 14.0 deaths per 100,000 people in Scotland
- 14.3 deaths per 100,000 people in Northern Ireland
Long-term trends in suicide have varied in different parts of the UK:
- The suicide rate in England declined between 1981 and 2021. Most of this fall occurred before 2000.
- The NHS five year forward view for mental health (2016) included a commitment to reduce the rate of suicides in England by 10% by 2020 compared to 2015 levels. The NHS Long Term plan (2019) suggested this target would be met but there has been no statistically significant change in the rate of suicides in England since 2015.
- Since the 1980s there has been a general downward trend in Wales, although over the past decade rates of suicide have increased.
- The suicide rate in Scotland has been consistently higher than in any other part of the UK. Since 2002, the rate of suicide has generally decreased, although there has been a slight increase in recent years.
- There has been little change in the rate of suicide in Northern Ireland since 2015. Figures before this are not comparable.
Suicide prevention strategies in the UK
In 2022, the Department for Health and Social Care held a call for evidence and a consultation on a Mental health and wellbeing plan: discussion paper, intended to inform a new mental health strategy and a separate suicide prevention strategy for England. In January 2023, it was announced that mental health would be incorporated into a new Major conditions strategy, instead of a stand-alone plan, and a separate suicide prevention strategy will be published later in 2023.
The current strategy in England, Preventing suicide in England: A cross-government outcomes strategy to save lives, was published in 2012. A Cross-government suicide prevention workplan was published in 2019.
The current strategy in Scotland, Creating hope together: Suicide prevention strategy 2022 to 2032, was published in 2022. A Suicide prevention action plan 2022 to 2025 was published alongside.
The latest strategy in Wales, Talk to me 2: Suicide and self harm prevention strategy for Wales 2015-2022, was published in 2015. A review of the strategy, alongside the Welsh Government’s mental health strategy, was published in 2023.
The current strategy in Northern Ireland, Protect life 2: Strategy for preventing suicide and self harm in Northern Ireland 2019-2024, was published in 2019. It includes an aim to reduce the suicide rate in Northern Ireland by 10% by 2024.
Suicide prevention in different policy areas (England)
Suicide prevention requires action across many areas of policy that are devolved in the UK, such as health and education. A summary of suicide prevention actions in different policy areas in England is set out below. Information on Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can be found in the relevant briefing sections.
The NHS Long term plan and subsequent Mental health implementation plan commit to achieving 100% coverage of crisis care via NHS 111 by 2023/24. In 2021 the Government announced £150 million of funding for crisis mental health facilities and patient safety in mental health units. In January 2023, it was announced £7 million of the funding would be allocated to new mental health ambulances. £143 million would go towards 150 new projects, including schemes providing alternatives to A&E.
The Government has said a national investigation of mental health in-patient services will commence in October 2023. This will include investigating how service providers learn from deaths and translate learning into improvement. The NHS Mental Health Safety Improvement Programme includes a focus on suicide prevention and reduction for mental health inpatients.
In the 2023 Spring Budget, the Government announced a £10 million grant fund for suicide prevention VSCE organisations across 2023 to 2025.
Since September 2020, health education has been a statutory part of the curriculum in primary and secondary schools in England. The Government has
published statutory guidance on relationships and sex education (RSE) and health education, including recognising and discussing mental health concerns.
The Government is supporting mental health in educational settings by offering funding to train a Senior Mental Health Lead in each school and college and rolling out Mental Health Support Teams in schools.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the Department for Health and Social Care have worked together through the joint Work and Health Unit to explore how more people living with mental health problems can be supported to find or stay in work. One such scheme is the Access to Work Mental Health Support Service, which provides support to manage mental health at work. This may include a tailored plan to help someone get or stay in a job, or one-to-one sessions with a mental health professional.
In 2017, the Thriving at work: the Stevenson/Farmer review of mental health and employers made recommendations on core standards for workplace mental health. The Government’s response, Improving lives: The future of work, health and disability, accepted the recommendations. In 2019, the Government consulted on proposals to reduce job loss due to ill health, including extending the right to request workplace modifications to a broader range of workers, but this was not taken forward. The Government also considered reforming Statutory Sick Pay, but said it is not the right time for such changes.
The DWP reviews cases where it is alleged the department’s actions are linked to the death of a benefit claimant or have caused ‘serious harm’, including attempted suicide. Stakeholders have expressed concerns the process and number of reviews “don’t reflect anything like the real scale of harm”. The DWP says it has taken a number of steps to improve how it responds to “those who live complex lives”.
In April 2022, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) announced it was taking action to require the DWP to improve its treatment customers with mental health impairments and learning disabilities. The EHRC and DWP have said they are drawing up a legally binding agreement, committing the DWP to action plan to meet the needs of these groups.
Major proposals to reform benefits for disabled people were set out in the Government’s Health and Disability White Paper, published alongside the Spring Budget on 15 March 2023.
The Department for Transport convenes a variety of regular meetings and groups on suicide prevention, such as a suicide prevention awareness group bringing together agencies within the sector to work together to reduce transport-related suicides. The British Transport Police also work to prevent suicides through actions such as capturing real time data and training rail industry partners.
The rail industry has its own suicide prevention programme, in partnership with the Samaritans and the BTP. National Highways (formerly called Highways England) published a Suicide prevention strategy in 2022.
The Prison Service Instruction (PSI) Safer Custody, issued by HM Prison and Probation Service to all prisons in England and Wales, details actions which must be taken by prisons to try to reduce incidents of self-harm and deaths in custody
The Ministry of Justice has developed safety training for staff which includes suicide and self-harm prevention, a suicide prevention learning tool developed in partnership with the Samaritans, and guidance distributed nationally on supporting someone who is self-harming.
The way suicide is covered in the media can an impact suicide rates. Depictions of methods and excessive reporting can lead to imitational behaviour. Press, media outlets and broadcasters should follow guidance on reporting deaths by suicide set out by their regulators.
There are growing concerns around the impact of social media on young people’s mental health, particularly in relation to self-harm and suicide.
The Government’s plans to tackle harmful content online, including content related to suicide and self-harm, are set out in the Online Safety Bill. Key aims are to increase user safety online and to improve users’ ability to keep themselves safe online. All regulated services would have to protect users from illegal content. There would be additional duties for services likely to be accessed by children.
The Armed Forces published a Suicide prevention strategy and action plan in April 2023. It was prompted in part by an upward trend in death by suicide in the armed forces. The Ministry of Defence made suicide prevention one of its priority themes in the Defence People Health and Wellbeing Strategy – 2022 to 2027, along with wellbeing and resilience.
The provision of veterans’ healthcare is primarily the responsibility of the NHS. In March 2021 the Government launched the Operation Courage service, creating a single point to access mental health services for veterans.
In England and Wales, deaths which appear to have been caused by suicide are investigated by a coroner as set out in Part 1 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009.
The level of certainty for a conclusion of suicide is the same as the civil standard of proof, that is, the balance of probabilities. This is a lower threshold than the standard of proof applied in the criminal courts – which is being sure, or “beyond all reasonable doubt”.
On 7 June 2022, The Lord Bishop of St Albans introduced into the House of Lords the Coroners (Determination of Suicide) Bill, a Private Member’s Bill that would require a coroner to record an opinion as to the relevant causative factors in a suicide after the conclusion of an inquest. The Government said it would not be able to support the Bill as it would lead to an inappropriate extension to the coroner’s jurisdiction.
Documents to download
Suicide prevention: Policy and strategy (979 KB , PDF)
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