Mental Health Act 1983 — [Ms Karen Buck in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:55 pm on 25th July 2019.

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Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Labour, Stockton North 2:55 pm, 25th July 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hanson, and to follow not just the contribution from my hon. Friend Mr Reed, but the other speeches. Great expertise and understanding has been brought to the debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend Neil Coyle on securing the debate, and I thank him for sharing a very powerful and personal testimony as well as offering solutions to the crisis in mental health. So often we can blather away in places such as here in Westminster Hall; we can talk about the problems, issues and suffering, but sometimes we do not offer solutions. It is our job to come up with solutions, and my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark and others have offered some.

As some colleagues might know, I have the privilege of chairing the all-party parliamentary group on social work. As my right hon. Friend Mr Jones said, we recently undertook an inquiry on the role that social workers play in upholding the principles outlined in the independent review of the Mental Health Act 1983, and on how that role can be recognised and enhanced in new legislation.

I believe that social workers are regularly, if not always, undervalued, yet their work is incredibly valuable in supporting and helping the most vulnerable people in our society—be it children at risk, older people in need of a bit more support, or families who experience breakdown and need the independent support that a social worker can provide. Of course, social workers also support people with mental health needs, although many people do not realise the tremendous role that they play in that. They ensure that mental health problems are not a barrier to anybody achieving the things they want, and that people get the appropriate treatment and care that they need.

Back in 2018, I met with two approved mental health professionals in my role as the chair of the APPG on social work. They are known as AMHPs—perhaps it is something to do with their electrifying personalities. They explained that there was a need to promote the role of social workers in mental health services, and I now understand why that is necessary. The legislation and policy often skim over the work of social workers, perhaps because it is so varied and hard to pin down.

In December, the independent review of the Mental Health Act 1983 published its report and recommendations. In preparation for a Government response, the APPG decided to have our own inquiry and add to that great piece of work. Some 9,000 social workers work in a defined mental health role, accounting for about 4% or 5% of the core mental health workforce, and 95% of AMHPs are social workers. I know it will take more than legislation to embed the kind of changes we would like to see, and work will have to be done by CCGs, local authorities, the NHS and social work leadership—to name but a few—if we are to succeed and get the change that is needed. I am hopeful that the APPG’s report and recommendations will act as a staging post on the way to cultural and legislative change.