By Alethea Cope
This morning saw the much-anticipated speech by the Prime Minister at the Charity Commission’s annual meeting. As her first major policy speech of 2017, Theresa May used the opportunity to begin outlining her plans for a ‘new agenda’ for social reform and highlighted the intrinsic links between mental health and other ‘burning injustices’ including poor quality housing and limited job prospects.
The Prime Minister’s agenda for mental health included the need for better children’s mental health support – better training in schools, along with a pledge that by 2021, no child will have to travel ‘out of area’ to receive mental health support. She also highlighted the devastating effects of childhood behavioural issues across the lifetime. Mrs May pledged an increase in digital therapeutic services, new and better models of community care in a crisis, and greater provision to support those struggling with debt. The Prime Minister announced the launch of a review into mental health in the workplace, noting the need to eradicate mental health stigma amongst employers, and she expressed the Government’s commitment to suicide prevention, highlight the tragic loss of 13 lives every day to suicide.
Alongside the Government’s pledges, a notable feature of the speech was the language of injustice and inequality, with repeated mention of the ‘burning injustices’ facing those with mental health problems. This is at the heart of everything the Centre does, from tackling inequalities in access to mental health care to ensuring people with a mental health problem get a fair chance: in the labour market, in the criminal justice system or in getting help with physical health.
Tackling injustices in relation to mental health is essential to create a fairer society, but the current context presents serious challenges. Cuts to social care and public health, for example, are affecting the very services that will be vital to transforming society at the local level.
And while the Prime Minister pledged to hold NHS leaders to account for ensuring that money earmarked for both children’s and adult mental health is spent as intended, she stopped short of promising to ringfence these budgets to prevent them being used to meet other priorities in the NHS.
Moreover, the effects of mental health problems refuse to stay neatly pigeon-holed, playing out across employment, housing, parenting and education. The lives of people with mental health problems are affected as much by housing, social security, education and justice policies as they are by health. We are therefore calling for a genuinely cross-government approach that assesses the cumulative impact of all government policies on vulnerable people and brings about concerted action to bring about better outcomes. As a demonstration of commitment to this new approach, we would hope to see careful consideration of the needs of people with mental health problems in the upcoming White Paper on housing which Mrs May announced today.
The Prime Minister’s recognition of injustices faced by people with mental health problems must be met with effective, timely action, to ensure that we break the links between mental health and social injustice. Mrs May suggested that today was an opportunity to ‘rewrite a historic wrong’ and address ‘everyday injustices’. We will seek to ensure this happens and work with national and local government to make sure the changes that result are based on evidence, that they are robustly tested and that they make a difference to people’s lives across the country.