Luciana Berger is the newly created post, Shadow Minister for Mental Health. Since taking office she has said that with community mental health services across England getting worse, waiting times to access help early on too long, bed shortages, and evidence that welfare reforms are triggering or exacerbating people’s mental health problems on an unprecedented scale things are going backwards not progressing fowards.
A very significant development is the programme of welfare reforms introduced by Iain Duncan Smith, the secretary of state for work and pensions, says Berger. A recent report from the charity, Mind, found that the Work Programme and the rising threat of sanctions was making people’s mental distress much worse.
Pledges that clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) should be increasing spending on mental health have proved radically different in practice according to Berger. “There’s no transparency. I had to FOI every single CCG in the country to expose the fact that actually around 30% were not increasing the amount they were spending on mental health in this financial year. When I endeavoured to hold the minister and the government to account over it I didn’t get a very good answer. Too many people are not getting help early enough. That would be my big headline as to why we are seeing such a crisis. If you don’t support people with mental illnesses they are more likely to develop a physical illness too and that is challenging.”
The result is a system artificially skewed toward crisis and emergencies, Berger claims. When reports emerge of more people turning up to A&E in mental distress and shortages of beds on acute wards meaning people travelling hundreds of miles to access a bed, this, she says, is partially a symptom of a wider problem of other services being slashed. “We have a crisis because we have a system that’s only focused on crisis,” Berger stresses.
She is especially scathing of the government’s record on young people. With schools under increasing pressure from children presenting with mental health difficulties and with waiting times for services remaining stubbornly long, Berger says the government is repeatedly letting young people down.
She intends to call the government out not just on cuts to mental health, but where budgets shrinking in other areas, such as social care, are having an impact. Other issues she will focus on when challenging the government and developing policy for the Labour party include: specific illnesses, such as eating disorders and obssessive compulsive disorder, which, she says, need better resources; the negative experiences of people from ethnic minorities, who are more likely to be sectioned than the rest of the population; and what she describes as the “very worrying” rising suicide rate among men, which she thinks should be an urgent priority.
source the guardian