To mark 100 days of the first Conservative government in nearly 20 years, HuffPost UK is running 100 Days of Dave, a special series of blog posts from grassroots campaigners to government ministers, single parents to first-year students, reflecting on what's worked and what hasn't, whilst looking for solutions to the problems we still face.
It's not been long since 7 May but we're fairly confident that mental health will be a key policy issue throughout this parliament. Very soon after the election, we were contacted by a number of ministers. Some positive and productive meetings have followed - good indicators that mental health is high on the agenda, at least for certain politicians. Backbenchers also wasted no time in approaching us for meetings, and a record number attended our first event in Parliament after the election. Even the Prime Minister spoke about mental health in his NHS speech. It ought to be a given that mental health would be acknowledged - but historically this has not been the case, and recognition from David Cameron should not be taken for granted. We hope that the Prime Minister continues to recognise the importance of mental health when it comes to spending as well as speeches.
Ensuring people get good care in a mental health crisis should be a key priority for this government. Many people don't get the support they need when they have a mental health emergency. Even worse, some are held in police cells, rather than health settings, a terrifying approach which often results in worsening mental health. That's why we were pleased to see Home Secretary Theresa May commit to reducing the use of police cells as 'places of safety', particularly for children. Mind believes that people in crisis should receive timely access to high quality care just as you would expect in any other health emergency.
In a similar vein, Health Minister Alistair Burt has made clear his commitment to improving crisis care and is supporting the Crisis Care Concordat, a cross-agency agreement setting better standards for mental health emergency care. He has also used his new position to make clear his intentions to stamp out the stigma still surrounding mental health, as well as confirming the Government's £1.25billion investment in children's mental health.
While there have been seeds of change for health, when it comes to benefits, we still have huge concerns. People with mental health problems are already more likely to be sanctioned - have their support stopped for failing to do certain activities. Such sanctions are meant to incentivise people to move towards work, but people with mental health problems already have a high 'want to work' rate, but often face other barriers that make it difficult to find and stay in jobs. To make matters worse, the Welfare Reform and Work Bill is proposing further cuts of nearly £30 a week for some claiming the disability benefit Employment and Support Allowance. Cutting financial support causes huge anxiety for people with mental health problems and rather than helping them into work, pushes them further away, damages their health and puts more pressure on the NHS. What is needed are substantial changes to the current system, including transforming the support offered to help those with disabilities get into appropriate employment.
Another area that the new Government is not getting right is public health. We are deeply concerned about the proposed £200million cut to the public health budget, which will seriously undermine mental health prevention efforts. Last year we found that local authorities were only spending (on average) 1.4% of their public health budgets on public mental health. As a result, opportunities to identify those at risk of developing mental health problems and support them were being lost. Cutting such budgets is a false economy, given it is much cheaper to invest in preventative measures than treatments, particularly the type of treatment needed when someone becomes extremely unwell. As with most physical health problems, intervening early can stop mental health problems worsening.
Stigma surrounding mental health is still rife. As such, we want the Government to continue investing in Time to Change, the anti-stigma campaign that we run in partnership with Rethink Mental Illness, which aims to change the way the nation thinks and acts towards people with mental health problems. Our latest research shows a record number of people in England saying they would be willing to live, work and have a relationship with someone who has experience of a mental health problem. Overall, public attitudes have also improved by 6% over the last three years, which equates to more than 2.5million people with improved attitudes towards people with mental health problems. Despite these changes, there's still a long way to go.
With rising demand for mental health services, it's vital the Government invests in these. We want to see the Government take a more holistic view to prevent people becoming unwell in the first place and support people to make ends meet when they're not currently able to work. Mental health is a key issue for all politicians. With the comprehensive spending review approaching, now's the time to give mental health the investment it deserves.