Mental Health of Children and Young Adults - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:35 pm on 16th May 2019.

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Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat 12:35 pm, 16th May 2019

My Lords, the fairest question we can ask any Minister in this debate is, “What are you doing to lead the action that is required here?” No one department can deal with this. When you talk about young people, clearly you will be talking about education—there has already been a great deal of emphasis on that. However, if you look across at the things that are working, take a leaf out of your own sports policy. Exercise is reckoned to be incredibly good for most people with mental health problems. Taking part in a sports team is a good way to prevent mental health problems, as you get a positive attitude and company, and the endorphins and stress release of sport help.

What are we doing to encourage that? What is the Department for Education—which, let us face it, is one of the few departments which is not quite as tightly squeezed as the rest of government at the moment—doing to lead this? That is the question that it is fair to ask the Minister; I am afraid that it comes with the job. What are you doing to help make sure that we get things right? If you do not, the Department for Education and everyone else will merely shuffle the problems on to you. What does not come to the Department of Health and Social Care will go into the criminal justice system. Where people fail to function in society is where it ends. On every occasion, when there is somebody who cannot function in respect of mental health or anything else—you name it—that is where you pick it up. You are the catch-all for what goes wrong.

Can the Minister gave us some idea of what encouragement the department is giving to make sure that in the field of education the Department of Health is saying to the Department for Education, “Will you make sure that people are educated in such a way that they can thrive?” I refer to the groups that were mentioned in the good and comprehensive opening remarks from the noble Baroness, Lady Royall: those with special educational needs. I remind the House once again of my interests in this field.

The All-Party Group for Dyslexia and Specific Learning Difficulties, led by Sharon Hodgson, flanked by myself and Henry Smith MP, has just produced a document in which we looked at the personal costs to dyslexics as a group and the amount of stress experienced by an individual and their parents if they are dyslexic and their needs are not being met as they go through the educational system. Stress is a great trigger mechanism for mental health problems—I think that is agreed. What are we doing to make sure that the Department of Health and Social Care says to the Department of Education, “You’re shovelling your problem on to us”? These trigger mechanisms are in place, but because of recent education reforms people are saying to dyslexics, my group—which is not the only one that is suffering—“You must get English”, and are putting an emphasis on taking more spelling tests, which is probably the world’s worst thing to do to a dyslexic. If you have a bad short-term memory and bad language processing, it does not matter how many times you do a spelling test—you will still forget. I know, because I have done it. What are we doing to say, “Stop doing these things that aggravate this very large group”—roughly 10% of the population?

As I said, they are not the only group. The National Autistic Society reckons that 70% of those with autism have mental health problems in the school system because of this pressure. It is not those with the most obvious problems—the low-functioning autistic or very severe dyslexic—but those who probably could just function in the system whom we must worry about. They are the people who will be overlooked and who will not get help automatically. I always use the example that if you have a car at the side of the road with smoke coming out of the bonnet and somebody shrieking, people will stop and help. If you are stuck in third gear, you are a pain.

What are the Government doing to lead this activity? Those are only two small examples covering two areas. How are they bringing this together? If the department does not do that, we will have high, pious words. Everyone will say, “Oh, it is terribly difficult”. Most of the reaction in the education system will be, “If we wait a few years, it will be another bit of the education system’s problem. Then it will be the Department for Work and Pensions’ problem—and then it will be a problem for the criminal justice system and then for the Department of Health”. That is what happens. We need co-ordination, and the Minister’s department must lead it.