A strong candidate for the made-up title of ‘Greatest Living Englishman’ has to be Steve Mallen. Never heard of him? Neither had I, until yesterday. You see, just over a year ago Steve’s son Edward took his own life on the railway line. The poor boy, 18 years of age, succumbed to what was described as the “inexplicable, rapid and catastrophic onset of severe depression.” Edward was a highly talented ‘A’ grade student who was destined to attend Cambridge University.
Steve set up the Mind Ed Trust shortly after his son’s passing. He wrote to David Cameron calling for a formal review of mental health. This week, a conference was held at a Cambridge College to establish the nature of problems with the system and seek solutions. Incredibly, Steve managed to attract representatives from all the major political parties, NHS representatives, academics and mental health campaigners into the same hall at the same time.
There are some truly frightening and utterly appalling facts and figures about mental health spending in the UK. Just 10% of the money goes to mental health, of which 0.7% goes to young people’s mental health. Mr Mallen told the audience that parity of esteem between physical and mental health were “empty words” and that mental health literacy across society was “shocking.” “We must change,” he said and so we must.
The government minister with responsibility for mental health, Alastair Burt, addressed the conference saying that he had been told by Cameron to “move things on” beyond the work done under the coalition. This is the type of phrase that reduces me to a state of despair. To move things on beyond the work done under the coalition? Now pardon me, Mr Burt, but under the last Tory government in which some Liberals had jobs, spending on mental health was cut in real terms by 8% whilst demand for services grew by 20%. Cameron instructed Burt to “move things on” from the crisis his government had created.
I am not sure what the conclusion was from this conference. Perhaps the main achievement was that it happened at all and that a Tory minister was shamed into attending. That he came out with the usual weasel words we have come to expect from Cameron’s government was not surprising but I sense that the game is up for Cameron and co. He can no longer try and charm his way out of situations where things have plainly gone wrong and the public has woken up to the fact that we are not all in it together.
All the governments of my lifetime have let the country down in dealing with mental health but this one takes the biscuit because they have actually made things worse and I’ll show you how.
On the same day as this conference took place, the work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith resigned from his post, citing dissatisfaction with benefit cuts to the disabled. This is the same Iain Duncan Smith whose DWP fit-to-work tests for sick and disabled people have coincided with 590 “additional” suicides, 279,000 cases of mental illness and 725,000 more prescriptions for antidepressants – and research from 1,000 GPs undertaken by mental health charity ReThink found that a staggering 21 per cent of their patients had experienced suicidal thoughts due to the stress of the Work Capability Assessments. Now do you see why I don’t believe his reasons for resigning. He didn’t give a toss when hundreds of people were killing themselves, coincidentally of course, on his watch. He didn’t resign then, did he?
Good riddance to Duncan Smith and a warm welcome to Steve Mallen who has done more good in the last year than most politicians do in a lifetime. I am so sorry about the tragedy that led to the foundation of the Mind Ed Trust but it speaks volumes for Mr Mallen that he sees his own family tragedy as a catalyst to help others. It has taken a terrible tragedy to bring politicians, kicking and screaming no doubt, to actually listen and do something and it will take some time for the Cameron/Osborne cuts to mental health spending to actually be reversed, never mind see spending increased.