Two months ago, I stood in this Chamber and spoke of my disappointment that the Queen’s Speech included only one reference to mental health, and even that was a reference to the Mental Health Act 1983, rather than a systematic programme to tackle mental health across all demographics. According to research by the Children’s Society, of the 22,365 children in Birmingham, Edgbaston, an estimated 2,733 five to 19-year-olds are struggling with mental ill-health. That is more than 10%. At the same time, the money available for local services for children and young people has fallen by 38%. Is it any wonder that just last week, research by the Education Policy Institute revealed that more than a quarter of child referrals for children and young people’s mental health services in England last year were rejected? Even when a referral was accepted, many children had to wait for an average of two months to begin treatment in 2019—double the Government’s four-week target. Birmingham Women’s and Children’s Hospital has a median wait time of 112 days. That is almost four months.
A decade of neglect in early intervention care, and an under-resourced mental health services sector, has meant that many more young people are turning up to A&E. I had hoped that the Government would have listened when I raised the issue in the debate on the previous Queen’s Speech, but given a second chance, the Prime Minister has failed once again to show that he is serious about tackling mental ill health. Yes, reform of the Mental Health Act 1983 is important and desperately needed, but the Government also need properly to fund vital preventive services.
For the many new Members of Parliament, I will repeat the shocking statistic that failed to elicit any action last time: for the whole of Birmingham there is only one early intervention counselling service for young people. The most recent waiting list has 400 young people and their families who are waiting desperately for treatment and support. The only conclusion I can draw is that the Conservative Government are knowingly and willingly failing our children and young people.
We know what we need. We need genuine parity of esteem. We must use the standards that we expect for physical health treatment as a template, and apply them to mental health patients. We need mental health services that are truly responsive to the complex conditions with which our young people frequently present. We must listen to young people when making decisions about the mental health services they use. I will ask the Minister once again: will he listen to those of us who are calling for the Government to do more for young people with mental ill-health, and deliver on the promises that his party has been making—promises that it has so far been breaking?
As a former social worker, I was surprised that the Queen’s Speech failed to commit to a review of children’s social care—the vital system that is designed to protect some of the most vulnerable in our society. That total and utter dereliction of duty follows cuts of almost a third in services for children and young people since the Conservatives came to power. Children’s social care is coming apart, despite the best efforts of hardworking councils around the country.
It should not be just about this; it should not just be firefighting. Social care should be about providing a system to support every child. We must give children the opportunity for the best start in life, whether that is in the form of late intervention such as safeguarding teams that step in in instances of abuse or neglect, or whether it is early intervention such as children’s centres and programmes that support parents and youth services. Children’s services are not only about looking after children in care; they provide effective family support services that help more children to stay in their homes if it is safe to do so. The Conservative party manifesto recognises the underfunding of children’s social care. Does the Minister agree that local authorities still do not have sufficient resources to address rising demand, even if his Government deliver on their manifesto commitment?