Mental health support has been slashed and trashed, and it will take more than Clegg’s pittance to fix that
Written by Charlie Smoke. Today is World Mental Health Day.
This week, Nick Clegg announced a £120 million increase in funding for mental health care in a package that includes the implementation of targets. In a move described as ‘highly unusual’, the policy was at the heart of Clegg’s conference speech, and will feature among the Liberal Democrat’s key manifesto pledges going into next year’s general election.
This £120 million funding package will be rolled out across the next two years, with £30 million earmarked for early intervention services for services and crisis care.
In his conference speech, Clegg referred to the second class status given to mental health within the NHS. He went on to describe in great detail how, since asking his first question at PMQ’s on the subject, he’s campaigned hard to end the Cinderella treatment of mental health services.
Whilst this is all very laudable, the statistics paint a different picture. Mental health represents 23% of the disease burden in England – a figure which is rising. By comparison, Mental Health receives only 13% of the overall NHS budget of around £95billion leaving a 10% funding shortfall.
Beyond the historical disparity between funding and need, there are further pressures on the provision of mental health services. The NHS has seen a funding cut of 2% in real terms, though NHS England have decided to cut Mental Health services 20% more than acute hospitals this financial year alone.
When contextualised as such, Nick Clegg’s promised boost to mental health services shows itself for what it is- a meagre drop in the ocean.
As part of my role as producer of Polarised (an upcoming documentary on LGBTQ+ Mental Health), I’ve spent the summer talking to people about their mental health. I’ve seen firsthand, both through my own experiences of accessing mental health services, and through talking to others about theirs, that simply implementing targets in a sector that is woefully understaffed and underfunded is not the magic wand Clegg paints it to be.
The Con-Dem coalition has presided over a regime of cuts so vicious and devastating, that instances of mental health difficulties and illness have skyrocketed. Conservative estimates point to a 15% increase in suicides since the beginning of the recession alone.
According to the think tank Demos for Scope, by 2018, disabled people will have lost £28.3 billion in cuts to income support. Of the expected 3.7 million people affected, those with mental health difficulties will be some of the worst hit. The office of Disability issues publishes annual statistics on disability equality indicators. Their statistics indicate that less than 20% of people with a severe mental health condition are in employment- making them the most underemployed group after those with severe of specific learning difficulties (of whom less than 15% are in consistent employment).
Beyond the cuts to benefits, subsidiary services, like vital homelessness centres, and the educational support allowance (a grant that helped thousands of young, impoverished people dealing with mental illness get through college) have been slashed.
It is Nick Clegg, self styled fairy godmother to mental health, and it’s treatment and perception in this country, who has presided over these cuts. As junior party in the coalition, Clegg and his Liberal Democrat colleagues have had a personal hand in enacting, enforcing and perpetuating the so called ‘second class treatment’ of mental health care in the UK.
Today, on World Mental Health day, those battling crippling depression will still get told they are fit to work, those in crisis will look for support to find none, and thousands upon thousands of the 1 in 4 of us who will suffer from ill mental health in our lifetimes will continue to slip through the widening cracks in society.
There are no amount of headline- grabbing empty promises from the Clegg’s, Cameron’s and Miliband’s of this world that will change anything for those that suffer from or experience ill mental health.
Fixing the way we treat and talk about mental health is a long, hard road- a road that starts, not with a flashy conference pledge, but with decisive action and an acknowledgement that people, and their physical and mental health, should always come before profit.