Louise, Paul and Andy from Parliamentary look back at a very active year in parliamentary relations.
This year we spoke to more MPs than ever before and saw enormous political will to do better on mental health. The MPs we met understood your concerns better than ever, too. In May, MPs took part in a long debate on mental health, and the points they made completely reflected the issues you raise with us: problems with the WCA, cuts to services, the waiting times for talking therapies, and poor quality crisis care. We got the same feeling when we attended the political party conferences. So we’ve been able to build meaningful relationships with MPs, and many have made the effort to visit local Minds and meet people using those services, table debates, write to their local health commissioners, or even put forward new pieces of legislation.
Parliament has also helped tackle stigma and discrimination this year. In February, the Mental Health Discrimination Act was passed. It overturned three discriminatory old laws that meant people with mental health problems were banned from jury service, MPs who had been sectioned would automatically lose their jobs, and company directors could be sacked if they developed mental health problems. When Parliament passed the Act, it confirmed that such discrimination has no place in modern Britain.
Stigma was also tackled in other ways too: John Woodcock MP spoke publicly about his depression, and on World Mental Health Day MPs from all parties pledged to stamp out stigma in Parliament.
In the House of Lords, Peers worked closely with Mind to create a new right to advocacy in the Care Bill. This means that in future people who have difficulty navigating the social care system because of their mental health will be far more likely to get the care they need.
However, there is still a gap between the good will in Parliament and the reality on the ground, particularly when it comes to services. The year was peppered with stories about cuts to mental health funding; the latest suggests that more than two-thirds of trusts have reduced spending on mental health since 2011. We’re hopeful that the focus on mental health in Parliament will, in time, mean services improve in practice and local spending is less biased towards physical health. But it certainly won’t happen over night and we can’t ever be complacent.
We have also found it challenging to influence Conservative politicians on the welfare reform agenda, it being such a cornerstone of Conservative policy. This is particularly frustrating as we now have so much damning evidence against the policy. But we won’t give up. Of course, Parliament is only one of the ways in which we can influence change. There are other levers, including the challenging media stereotypes and the judicial review of the Work Capability Assessment. We’ve made good progress in these areas, which we should be very proud of.
But what will 2014 look like? It’ll be a critical year for the Parliamentary team - each party will be developing its manifesto for the 2015 general election, and each MP will start to canvass your votes. In the past, parties didn’t win votes by promising to improve mental health services, but I genuinely think this has changed. Because of the attention mental health now commands, we’re in a strong position to make it a key theme for the next election. That’s exactly what we intend to do and we look forward to working with you all to make it happen.