I thank Andrew Griffiths for obtaining this important debate. I imagine that not a single Member of the House would diminish the importance or severity of this issue. We all want every child to get the best possible start in life, but that is an empty commitment if we do not make sure that the right level of support and help is available for children who suffer from mental health conditions, just as we would for children with physical injuries. We would never allow a child with a broken leg to suffer alone, without professional treatment. Nor should we fail to provide a child suffering from depression or anxiety with the support they urgently need. In the past, the issue has not been given the priority it clearly deserves, so I am glad that finally a consensus is starting to build around the importance of improving mental health services for children and young people.
Despite the acknowledgement of how much needs to be done, the Government have failed to act decisively on the issue. Identifying a problem is all well and good. What we need is real leadership, concrete solutions and properly funded services. At present they are failing on all three fronts. Not enough has been done to address the inadequacy of funding for services or to reduce the number of children who do not have access to mental health support at all.
The Government’s children’s services early intervention grant has been reduced by almost £600 million since 2013. It is projected to decrease by another £100 million by 2020. Children’s services now face a funding gap of £3 billion by 2025. That underfunding is taking place in the context of a rising demand for children’s mental health services. Underfunding leads to a vicious cycle, as the support necessary for good mental health—provided through services such as housing, education and family support—is gradually cut away. When those resources are unavailable, early intervention becomes impossible and mental health problems are left to fester and deteriorate, until finally they require urgent medical intervention. Children are not suffering from more mental health problems at random: the conditions for mental ill health are being created by austerity.
That is why I support the recommendations of the Local Government Association’s “Councils Can” paper, which calls for the empowerment of local government to lead communities and improve young people’s mental health and wellbeing. The point about signposting pathways and helping charities is important. Properly funded housing, education and family support services need to be given priority to ensure the wellbeing of children and young people. Councils are uniquely placed to do that. That is why they need to be properly funded and at the heart of our efforts to address the issue.
Inequality is also a huge issue in the delivery of mental health services for children and young people. Research this year from the mental health charity Mind found that vulnerable people in some regions struggle with little more than half the NHS funding of those in the best-resourced areas. For example, in Surrey Heartlands health and care partnership, the average annual spend on mental health services per head of population is just under £125, but in South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw sustainability and transformation partnership the figure is over £220. The Government need to act as soon as possible. The crisis is absolutely huge.