Mental Illness: Job Security and Inequality - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:59 pm on 4th July 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Bird Lord Bird Crossbench 1:59 pm, 4th July 2019

My Lords, it is good that we have a report from the UN rapporteur Mr Dainius Puras. I shall refer to it very briefly because it is part of the reason why I asked for this debate. Many of us are working on mental health, but Mr Puras alerts us to looking at it not simply as a thing in itself but as an expression of all sorts of other things. If you want to sort out somebody’s mental health, you need to do things other than look at it simply as a medical condition.

Apparently 16%, or one in six, of people in the UK—I do not know whether this goes for other countries—will suffer some form of mental well-being issue or have mental health problems, acute anxiety or an inability to function in life at some time in their life. That is an incredible figure. We know that with the austerity cuts that have been hitting us since 2010 there is more evidence of people suffering from mental well-being problems. We need to address that, so all of us who are involved in the fight against poverty—it is related to poverty—are asking the Government about it. If one in six people is going to hit the mental health or mental well-being barrier, as a society we will have to up our interest, support and need to dismantle all the things that bring about lack of mental well-being.

I shall briefly talk about myself. Wherever I read about mental well-being and all the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune thrown at the poor, I am astonished that I have managed to survive all the slings and arrows thrown at me and all the slings and arrows that I threw in response. I shall mention a lovely quote:

“You are who you are because of other people”.

That is from the work of Julie Hannah, I think quoting Mr Dainius Puras, but I am not so sure about that. You are who you are because of who you know. It is a brilliant quotation. I was very fortunate that every now and then I met somebody who behaved in an adult way towards me, such as my probation officer. I am so glad to hear that we are bringing probation back inside and not leaving it to the ne’er-do-wells who do not seem to be able to handle probation in the commercial sector. Probation was the service that stopped me behaving strangely in a way that would harm my mental well-being. I survived because of the people I met, such as my ex-wife. I would like to praise my ex-wife, who took me in, looked after me and helped my mental well-being. The problem is that most people are not lucky enough to be a ducker and a diver and a bobber and weaver and a cheeky chappie like John Bird. I am very fortunate, but there are a lot of people out there who do not have the succour, support and opportunities that came to me. It was lucky, but it was mainly the fact that there were people who looked at me in a particular way and helped me into work, education and sociability.

One of the good things that the rapporteur, Mr Dainius Puras, has said is that you cannot always look at mental health with a medical response. You cannot think that it is a National Health Service problem. It is not simply a National Health Service problem; it is a problem for all of us because it is a tangential series of things that need to come together. We need to ensure that people can get out of poverty because poverty is the big killer when it comes to holding people back in society. We know that there is a direct relationship between mental health and well-being and what you are doing in life. We know that the poorer the food and standard of living, the more enormous threats there are to your mental well-being. I do not think the Government need that proved once again. All we need to know is that the Government are going to up the tangential belief, not simply the medical belief—the pharmaceutical road that you take to sort out people’s mental well-being. If you have a good job, it increases the chance of you having a stable mental health existence. If you have a good job, you can pay your own way and take your family on holiday, to a museum or to the seaside and have a general sense of purpose in your life. If you are living on the edge, you are like somebody with permanent toothache. You are stuck there and it will affect your mental well-being, which will go out of the door.

Over the past six months, we have been working on a very interesting project in Northampton. We chose Northampton before the council went belly up; there was no relationship between the two; that was to do with somebody else. We chose Northampton because we wanted to do something very simple. We accepted the idea that if you want to address the questions of mental well-being, you need a supportive, stitched-together, functioning community, not a series of holes where people wander from hither to thither without any sense of purpose. We did something very simple. We got people in Northampton to start to trade together. We got the housing association working with the estate agent and the hospital working with the local bread company. We pulled them together. We were trying to lay down the first stages of re-engaging with a healthy community so that it could then move on and have the mental well-being, the jobs and all the other things that you need when you have a community.

Northampton is very interesting because we have managed to create what we call a social echo. A conference is coming up there. It is wonderful. It is an inspiration on our part, but it has been taken up by local people. A social echo is how you create businesses working in the community—for instance, providing work for long-term unemployed people who were suffering enormous mental health problems. How do you manage to get them back into work? The way you do it is by looking around the community and asking whether the housing association’s services can be sold to other players in the community so a job comes out of it.

I am an incredibly practical person. I have never done anything complex. I always describe my work as very dumb. When it came to working with homeless people, I did not address their mental well-being or the fact that they had been troubled and harmed in their early lives; I addressed the fact that they were getting themselves into trouble and into crime. I created a crime prevention programme so that people would stop committing crimes because I thought it was important to remove crime from their lives, and then you could address the mental well-being issues and all the other issues. You could start pulling them together in other ways.

I have now got to sit down.