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Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:25 pm on 12th March 2020.

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Photo of Steve Reed Steve Reed Shadow Minister (Education) (Children and Families) 2:25 pm, 12th March 2020

I congratulate Sally-Ann Hart on a confident and optimistic maiden speech. She certainly has very big shoes to fill, but from what we have just heard I feel confident that she will do a fantastic job of representing her constituents. I had the pleasure of spending new year in Hastings and Rye a couple of years ago, and I now regret that I did not hitch a ride on the Amber Rudd seaside express. I could recognise in everything the hon. Lady said what a fantastic place it is, and they are lucky to have a fantastic new MP. I was particularly pleased to hear the hon. Lady refer to children with special educational needs, because they need everybody to give them the voice that they otherwise would not have. I look forward very much to the hon. Lady’s future contributions to debates in this Chamber.

I will move on to the matter at hand. My right hon. Friend John McDonnell was right to focus on the social crisis we face in this country. In that light, I would like to take a moment to consider the impact of the Budget on people with mental ill health. This Government regularly talk about helping this group of highly vulnerable people, without following up on their words.

Although it is right that the Chancellor has focused this week on tackling the immediate threat of coronavirus, the measures he has put in place are necessarily temporary. Many people with mental ill health face long-term challenges that temporary measures will not alleviate. The Government are speeding up the payment of benefits, including statutory sick pay, to people unable to work because of coronavirus, and that is the right thing to do, but for thousands of people with mental health problems, the benefits system pushes them further away from work. The roll-out of universal credit, ignoring the major failings during the pilot stages, has pushed many people with mental ill health into poverty and deeper mental health crises. A five-week wait for the first payment, and insensitive assessments, to put it mildly, in which people who are mentally vulnerable are forced to recount in detail examples of trauma and even attempted suicide, can easily worsen their health conditions and make them less capable of work. There is nothing in this Budget to tackle any of the root causes of that.

After years of NHS underfunding, mental health campaigners including Mind and Young Minds have been calling for greater levels of investment, but there was no mention in the Budget of investing in the wellbeing of NHS staff who are leaving in droves because of unimaginable stress and workloads. And there was no mention of investment in the crumbling and unsafe facilities people with mental health problems have to use. Indeed, two thirds of mental health trusts estimate that they need between £50 million and £150 million extra in capital investment over the coming years. How much longer can we go on putting people with mental ill health in mixed-sex wards that leave patients at risk of sexual assault, or leaving patients who are at risk of suicide where they cannot be properly supervised because the facilities are inappropriate?

In December 2018, Professor Sir Simon Wessely completed his independent review of the Mental Health Act 1983 and made recommendations for improving that legislation and the services that follow on from it. Fifteen months later, there has still been no response from the Government to that important review, despite a string of Ministers championing the review from the Dispatch Box. While we wait for a formal response, we also wait for the funding to match, but we heard nothing at all about any of that in the Budget. The Government must not forget people with mental ill health. They should be investing in staff recruitment and training, high-quality facilities, and the support people need to live the independent, fulfilling lives that they all deserve to lead.

I would like to take a moment to look at the continuing inappropriate use of violent restraint against patients with mental ill health. This House unanimously passed my private Member’s Bill, Seni’s law, in November 2018. The Bill establishes a new system aimed at reducing the use of restraint and eliminating deaths in mental health custody of the kind experienced by Seni Lewis and far too many others. Seni’s law won unanimous support, in all parts of the House, yet 16 months later the Government have still not announced a commencement date, despite originally promising that we would have it within six months of the legislation being enacted.

To people with mental ill health, it looks like the Government just do not consider them a priority. I am aware that the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Ms Dorries, who is responsible for mental health, is self-isolating with coronavirus, and I wish her a speedy recovery, as I am sure we all do, but that does not excuse the months of dither and delay that have held up the important provisions of this Act coming into force. I hope that the first thing she will do when she has recovered and is back at her desk is give us a commencement date for Seni’s law. It will not even cost the Chancellor a penny to do it.

This Budget is a missed opportunity for people with mental ill health. The Government keep saying that mental health is a priority, but the funding does not follow the rhetoric. I hope the Chancellor will reflect on serious omission in the Budget and work with his colleagues across government to make mental health services, and the people who rely on them, the priority they need and deserve to be.