The Secretary of State is right to say that the shadow Secretary of State is, indeed, a nice man, but he is far more than that. I pay tribute to Jonathan Ashworth for the tremendous work that he and Liam Byrne have done on behalf of the children of alcoholics—they are making a tremendous difference.
I will focus on the impact of cuts to mental health services. At a time when there is a welcome all-party commitment to parity of esteem between mental health and physical health, there is an alarming gap between rhetoric and reality. Headline national figures too frequently do not reflect the experiences of people at the sharp end. It is widely acknowledged that mental health services were underfunded to start with, and the perpetual cuts we have seen have made matters worse.
A lethal cocktail of cuts to health and benefits has created a shameful epidemic of rough sleeping that is so evident in the towns and cities of our country. Specific Government funding, although welcome, is inadequate and no substitute for the savage cumulative cuts to mainstream services. It is paying for the damage caused by indiscriminate, disproportionate cuts.
I put on record our support for the tremendous leadership shown by the Mayor of Greater Manchester with his “a bed every night” initiative, but that will need considerably more investment from the Government if it is to achieve its noble objectives.
My “Talking About Mental Health” campaign in Bury South has attracted a lot of support from people with mental health issues and their families. It has illustrated a simple truth: one in four people experiences mental health problems every year. The campaign is encouraging people to feel able to talk about their own experiences and is galvanising support to improve local services. Cuts have meant too often that people endure long waits for psychological therapy, and are unable to access appropriate in-patient and emergency services. Community support is scarce, and far from services being focused on prevention and early intervention, people can usually access services only in the event of a crisis. Relatives and carers are frequently left to struggle alone.
We have some excellent, innovative local voluntary services, such as the Creative Living Centre, Moodswings and The Friendship Circle, but they are underfunded and cannot be expected to meet the scale of the demand for support. A major concern is the state of child and adolescent mental health services. Although the Government’s pledge of an extra £1.4 billion to transform CAMHS in 2015 was welcome, work by YoungMinds has demonstrated that in the first year of extra funding only 36% of clinical commissioning groups that responded had increased their CAMHS spend by as much as that Government funding.
In my constituency, I am currently advocating on behalf of a number of local parents who have autistic children with mental health problems—I am sure other hon. Members have the same experience. These people are under unspeakable daily pressure, yet services consistently fail to meet their needs. In the light of it being Mental Health Awareness Week, I would like to read part of a blog written by my brave 19-year-old constituent Libby Bean, who describes the realities of living and coping with a mental health condition as follows:
“I found going to many psychologists that it just wasn’t working for me, I didn’t like the by the book exercises and help they would give me and treat my case like every other person as I believed it had to be adapted specifically for me. After several psychologists I tried this one amazing person that I had heard was great for anxiety. Me being me I said I’d try it because”— it was just an opportunity—
“to get rid of my feelings of anxiety, I thought how this will be any different to what I have been through before, well I was wrong. This changed my life. They have helped me so much and have been the best support system.”
The point that I am making and that I think Libby is making is that health and local public service cuts are making it harder for people such as Libby to receive the tailored care and support that they need. A one-size-fits-all approach is always destined to fail; an issue as varied as mental health requires personalisation.
Supporting mental wellbeing should be at the heart of any responsible Government’s approach to building a better society. It requires health and local government leadership, and a joined-up, cross-government approach. It requires us to continue the tremendous progress that has been made in recent years in tackling stigma. It also requires the full engagement of employers in the public and private sectors. Parity of esteem and a shift to prevention and early intervention are noble objectives, but disproportionate cuts to local government and underfunding of the NHS mean that the reality is very different. Not only does this make vulnerable people even more vulnerable, but it corrodes trust in politicians and this place. I hope that the Secretary of State will give serious consideration in the future to ring-fencing funding for mental health, so that people at the sharp end genuinely see the benefits of extra funding that is announced at a national level.