So, the supply and support deal negotiations between the DUP and the Conservatives is slowly coming to a close. And although it is probably not at the forefront of everyone’s minds, mental health is a pivotal issue which has been discussed. Thus, I think it would right to see what its future looks like under this leadership and compare it with the future proposed by the main opposition party, Labour.
During the General Election, Theresa May promised to scrap the “burning injustice” that was the 1983 Mental Health Act, this has been widely criticised as discriminatory, disempowering and impeding to recovery. In its place, the party promised, in its manifesto, that they would introduce a new Mental Health Bill. In order to put parity of esteem at the heart of treatment and end the stigma of mental illness once and for all, these have been the goals of the previous two Conservative governments.
Some of the policies they aim to put in place to succeed with their plan, include: protection for employees suffering with mental health issues, ten thousand NHS staff (over the next three years) to be assigned to mental health services (it is yet to be confirmed if this will be new hires or those already employed) and at least one teacher in every primary and secondary school will be trained in mental health first aid and detecting signs in children.
Although Theresa May’s rhetoric and her party’s policies, in theory appear sound, due to the lack of extra funding being assigned to the sector, she has been accused of using tokenism and a smoke and mirrors tactic.
Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of mental health charity SANE, argued that Mrs May was “Painting over some dangerous cracks and fault lines” in mental health assistance; as it was fundamental that “resources are placed in frontline services”. Natasha Devon, formerly the children’s mental health Tsar, concurred and stated to The Independent that the PM’s speeches contained “a lot of rhetoric and sloganeering”.
And let’s not mention the incident with Cathy. If you haven’t heard of this, it involved Cathy, a woman with learning difficulties, pleading with the PM for assistance as the current support and benefits provided were negligible. Theresa May’s response was not only lacklustre but also, she mistakenly stated that Cathy had mental health issues. The charity Mencap defines mental health as “a term used to cover a range of emotional, psychological or psychiatric distress experienced by people” while learning disabilities are “a reduced intellectual ability and difficulty with everyday activities”. So, she thinks she’s the best person to get rid of stigmas and not have all mental health issues blended together?
For a funny take on her stance on mental health watch Russell Kane’s Mental Health Awareness Week video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1muV7Shu1io).
And now the DUP, they are best summarised by the comedian reporter, Jonathon Pie. He states they “have strong connections to paramilitary organisations, their anti-abortion, pro-apartheid, anti-gay rights. So, they sound nice.” He goes onto to taunt the PM with her “f*ck up” and that its “all gone tits up, hasn’t it Theresa?” However, what does this coalition of chaos mean to mental health?
Surprisingly, quite a good thing, in theory. In their manifesto, they claimed they would continue to increase spending, appoint mental health champions across the public sector and establish a world leading trauma centre. Indeed, out of the £1 billion they are set to get out of their deal with the Conservatives, £50 million will solely go to mental health.
However, there are several issues, once again it is the issue of whether in practise their promises will be achieved, considering their views can they really endorse such a progressive policy? And, the large sum which will now be funnelled to Northern Ireland has angered the other regions in the United Kingdom, Scotland and Wales, who aren’t getting this money and are lumped with Westminster’s policy.
So, what does the opposition offer? On World Mental Health Day, Jeremy Corbyn called to “end the stigma, end the discrimination. Treat people with mental health conditions as you would wish to be treated yourself.” His party, similarly to the Conservatives, promised parity of esteem, training for NHS staff and more time and money spent on children’s mental health. By comparing the manifestos of the two major parties, it can be concluded that the only real difference is that Labour, naturally, want a more hands on, and potentially more compassionate, approach by the government. They also allot funding.
Mr Corbyn criticised the PM’s party during the election on their policy, they in turn also criticised him for the ‘gaps’ in his budget. He referred to when Theresa May, in 2002, called her party the “nasty party” with some of its members trying to gain political capital by demonising minorities. He then flash forwarded to this year, MP George Freeman, director of Mrs May’s policy unit, stated that “We want to make sure we get the money to the really disabled people who need it” and not those who “are taking pills at home, who suffer from anxiety”. His reference to this comment, which the MP later apologised for, was part of the larger concern on the future of PIP, under the Conservatives, which is vital to many who suffer learning difficulties and mental health issues. This comment further puts into question Mrs May’s party’s ability to combat stigmas.
So, is Theresa May the medieval crow like witch, as described by Russell Kane? And is Jeremy Corbyn the man of the people with his shining beacon of hope? To be honest neither is true, we can’t say if the PM will go by, or go back, on her word and with Jeremy Corbyn, it’s a case of ‘what if’ as he’s not in power, yet. Conservative or Labour, Left or Right, mental health isn’t a political factor like economics or foreign policy. It’s simple, it needs recognition and it needs to lose the stigma (see the charity Mind’s six priorities for England to see which party you think meets these best: https://www.mind.org.uk/news-campaigns/campaigns/2017-general-election/2017-election-mental-health-priorities-england/).