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Why The Budget Is A Missed Opportunity For Mental Health

13/03/2017 12:52

Last time I wrote on this blog I was imbued with a feeling of optimism, albeit of a cautious sort. Theresa May had just delivered her first speech on domestic policy after months of Brexit dealings where she outlined her determination to right some of the 'burning injustices' that plagued society, and astonishingly, I thought, she chose mental illness to illustrate her zeal.

So it would be reasonable to say that the Government had its first real opportunity to translate that determination into action with this spring Budget. Instead it has chosen to pass through series of changes and cuts to benefits that will make the lives of people with mental illness far harder.

One of these is the counter productive cuts to Employment Support Allowance (ESA), the benefit you receive when you're too unwell to work. If you are assessed for ESA and put in the Work Related Activity Group, meaning you're still too unwell to work but could be ready in the near future, you will now receive £30 a week, intended for food and bills, less than before as the Government believes that this will encourage you get back to work.

Rethink Mental Illness, along with many other charities, have been saying that this is a poorly thought out policy that will cause unnecessary hardship for people with disabilities and long term illness. If you're too ill to work, you're too ill to work, and cutting the money used for essentials won't change that. But the Government has not listened.

In December last year, a tribunal ruled that those living with a mental illness that makes it difficult to leave the house are entitled to the same support as people who have a physical condition that causes the same issues. Instead of listening to the tribunal, the Government is amending Personal Independence Payment regulations to deny people with mental illness this extra money.

This is to say that person A, whose anxiety means they struggle to leave the house and navigate to a destination, can receive the same extra money to pay for taxis or helpers as person B, who might struggle to get around because their sight is impaired.

This seems to me, a fairly straightforward example of that phrase we who work in mental illness often use- 'parity of esteem'. It's a bit jargon but it essentially means, treating mental and physical health equally. It's really basic fairness; person A and person B are having similar difficulties just with different causes.

Unfortunately Ministers didn't agree with this assessment. They have since gone back to change the criteria for PIP specifically to deny it to people with mental health problems. In some cases this was as crude as simply removing the word 'psychological' from descriptions, so you can no longer indicate that travelling causes 'psychological distress'.

This change demonstrates reluctance to actually deliver equal treatment of physical and mental health. It's becomes difficult to countenance this version of the Government, hastily rewriting policy to exclude people with mental illness, with the version presented by Theresa May less than a month ago.

A contrast emerges between convincing speeches and the follow through in the actual detail of Government departments. Ultimately the Government needs to put its money where its mouth is or all this rhetoric will look like just that, rhetoric.

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