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We sent our manifesto to all parties in the upcoming General Election and asked them to write a blog about how they will approach mental health in government. Here's what Labour had to say.
My first public engagement after being elected as Labour Party Leader was to attend the Camden and Islington NHS Mental Health Trust’s Fun Day in St Pancras Gardens – an important annual community engagement event, which I attended as the local MP. Hearing about the work of the voluntary groups working so hard to support people experiencing mental health difficulties, I recognised that if things were to change in mental health we would need a dedicated champion to hold the government to account. One of my first actions as Labour leader was therefore to appoint a shadow Mental Health Minister to the Shadow Cabinet.
"It is welcome that mental health has featured so prominently in this General Election campaign."
One in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem and most of us will have friends or family who have been through periods of stress or depression. Yet, mental health services still receive only a small percentage of NHS funding and there remains a large disparity between how people with physical and mental health problems are treated.
But while awareness raising is essential, when the coverage of policy announcements dies down and politicians are faced with competing priorities and difficult decisions, what matters is not what is said, but what is done. Actions speak louder than words.
A government that truly saw mental health as equally important to physical health would not have made the budget cuts that led to service closures. They would not have cut mental health nurse numbers by over 6,000 or taken £200m away from the public health budgets. And they would not have allowed mental health budgets to be raided to maintain other essential services.
A political party truly committed to seeing improvements in mental health services would not water down commitments in their manifesto from those made in speeches only a few days earlier. It would not promise more staff, while saying there is no new money to pay for them. And it would not ask schools to do more to identify mental health conditions in children, only to offer no new resources to support the growing numbers of children who already seek help from Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services only to be turned away at the door.
Labour’s approach is different. We know that increasing capacity and improving quality of mental health services will take time, commitment and money. But we also understand it is money well spent – research from the LSE estimates the yearly cost of mental health to our economy at around £105 billion.
Our manifesto sets out ambitious but deliverable policies that will have a real impact on frontline services and to people’s health. And we have identified where the money will come from.
We will fund our health services properly, providing an additional £37 billion for the NHS by the end of the next Parliament. This will not only provide much needed extra money for mental health services, but also ensure the NHS no longer needs to raid mental health budgets to fill black holes elsewhere. And we will ring-fence mental health budgets including those for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services so that money reaches the frontline.
A Labour government will also unashamedly focus more of our resources on early mental health interventions.
"Half of all people with mental health problems as adults present with symptoms by the age of 14. Yet, just 8% of mental health budgets are devoted to the treatment of young people."
This will change under Labour, with a higher proportion of mental health spending being directed at services for children and more money to ensure all secondary schools are able to offer a school counselling service to pupils.
For those receiving support at home, Labour will provide an additional £8 billion in the next Parliament for social care. For people in residential care, we will raise the means-tested asset threshold and introduce a cap on lifetime contributions to the costs of care, so that no-one has to face the financial consequences of developing a condition like dementia alone.
Labour will also give better recognition to our most essential resource - the health and care workforce. Seven of the top ten trusts for nursing vacancies at present are mental health trusts. A Labour government will guarantee the rights of EU nationals working here on day one, reintroduce nurses’ bursaries and lift the NHS pay freeze to deal with this staffing crisis.
So, when the election is over and the spotlight of attention moves on, the commitment I will make is that a Labour government will match our words with actions.
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Blogs and stories can show that people with mental health problems are cared about, understood and listened to. We can use it to challenge the status quo and change attitudes.