Paula Sherriff is campaigning for better mental health services this Mental Health Awareness week, having repeatedly spoken out in Parliament for local people who’ve faced a shocking lack of provision in our area.
When Theresa May announced her Government’s reforms to mental health support earlier this year, Paula outlined her take on the proposals for mental health charity, the Richmond Fellowship.
You can read Paula’s contribution here:
“Just like David Cameron before her, Theresa May has pledged her personal commitment to transforming mental health support. I dearly would like to see that happen, but please forgive me if I’m somewhat sceptical.
This is too big an issue to be dismissive about any initiative, but I think it would be remiss of me not to take into account the Tories record in government. Over the last six years they have systematically eroded the benefits and services that people with mental health difficulties rely upon.
Repeatedly the Tories have given speeches saying they will give mental health parity with physical health, but their record is dismal: spending on mental health fell by £600 million in the last parliament, money intended for children’s mental health goes to other priorities and, despite repeatedly promising improvement, there are now over 6,000 fewer mental health nurses than in 2010 - almost 15 per cent of the entire mental health workforce.
The latest comments from the Head of No 10’s Policy Unit, George Freeman, on Personal Independence Payments (PIP) – that they should go to the ‘really disabled’ rather than those ‘taking pills at home, who suffer from anxiety’ – reveals a dangerously stigmatising viewpoint from someone key to informing current government policy. The reforms to PIPs will see £3.7bn cuts for claimants with psychological problems.
For me, and for many mental health organisations, this casts doubt over the Prime Minister’s commitment to improve the lives of people who need support with their mental health. This is of grave concern to me and it is an issue that I have raised repeatedly during my time as an MP.
I recently met with health professionals from around the country to discuss mental health services. They spoke about the problems they are facing, including concerns that funding intended for frontline mental health services, specifically for children and young people, is being diverted elsewhere by cash strapped Clinical Commissioning Groups.
Research conducted by the Education Policy Institute’s Independent Commission on Children and Young People's Mental Health in November 2016, found that a quarter of young people seeking mental health care are turned away by specialist services because of a lack of resources.
Locally, my constituents’ experiences have borne out these worrying reports. Toward the end of last year I met a local mum whose teenage daughter was in a mental health unit in Colchester – the closest available inpatient bed.
Meanwhile a deepening housing crisis, rising poverty, cuts to benefits and services that protect people from abuse, neglect and isolation means that the factors which contribute to mental illness are getting worse. A letter signed by hundreds of Psychiatrists and Psychotherapists, the Tory government’s austerity policies have been described as “profoundly disturbing” to the nation’s mental health
So when Theresa May announced that she will “transform mental health support” in Britain, this is to be welcomed – but then these warm words are nothing new. We have heard it all before: one year ago David Cameron pledged a similar “revolution in mental health treatment”. Indeed, it seems that, when more closely examined, much of the measures detailed are previous commitments that are yet to be delivered. Community alternatives to visiting hospital for mental health treatment were also promised last year and support for schools to tackle mental health issues has already been pledged by Nick Clegg in March 2015.
There will be no easy answers, but it’ll take more than a speech and a slogan for Theresa May to convince people that she’s serious about fixing the problems that her party has helped to create.
I will do all I can both in Parliament and here in my constituency to fight the cuts that are undermining public services that act as a lifeline for those who rely on them. Moreover, I will keep working to hold Theresa May and her government to account on the pledges they make on mental health.”
Originally published in the Spring edition of the Richmond Fellowship's Kirklees Newsletter