UK government shelves the Mental Health Bill
The King’s Speech provides the UK government with an opportunity to highlight its upcoming priorities. It forms part of the State Opening of Parliament ceremony, which marks the start of the next parliamentary year.
Despite reforms to the Mental Health Act being a key Conservative manifesto commitment in both 2017 and 2019, the UK government has failed to include the Mental Health Bill in today’s King’s Speech. The plans to reform the Mental Health Act 1983, which is the main piece of law setting out when you can be detained for treatment against your will, have broad cross-party support and featured in all of the main party manifestos in 2019.
The road to reform began in 2018 with an independent review of the Act, which was followed by a White paper in 2021 and a final parliamentary joint committee report earlier this year. Its lack of inclusion today means the legislation will not be passed before the next General Election.
Responding to the Mental Health Bill being dropped from the King’s Speech, Dr Sarah Hughes, Chief Executive of Mind, said:
“The long overdue Mental Health Bill is a chance to overhaul the way the system works when people are in a mental health crisis. It is an opportunity to address the deep racial injustices in the use of the Act, with Black people being four times more likely to be detained. It is also a crucial chance to prevent people being stripped of their dignity, voice and independence when they are sectioned. That chance has now been missed, and the UK government has broken its promise to thousands of people, their loved ones and the nation as a whole to reform the Act.
“This is further evidence of how little regard the current UK government has for mental health. More than 50,000 people were held under the Mental Health Act last year, so it is incomprehensible that legislation which would help people at their most unwell has been de-prioritised. There could not be a worse time to abandon this bill, especially given the recent string of exposés revealing unsafe mental health care across the country.
“People with mental health problems, countless professionals and other experts poured huge amounts of time, effort and resource into reforming this legislation to make it fit for the 21st century. Their voices are being ignored.
“People with mental health problems deserve better than lip service from the politicians who are supposed to represent them at the highest levels of power. Today is a huge blow for our community, but we will continue to fight to raise the standard of mental healthcare. We won’t give up until everyone with a mental health problem gets the support and respect they deserve.”