Regeneration plan? The government doesn't have one

MPs find that ministers have "no adequate strategy" to tackle problems faced by England's deprived c

Ministers have no "adequate strategy" to tackle the problems faced by England's most deprived communities, and a focus on economic growth will increase the gap between rich and poor further, according to a report by MPs. Spending cuts compound the problem.

The cross-party communities and local government select committee (which has a Tory/Lib Dem majority) concluded that the government's regeneration plan "lacks strategic direction and is unclear about the nature of the problem it is trying to solve", adding:

It [the regeneration document] focuses overwhelmingly upon the achievement of economic growth, giving little emphasis to specific issues faced by deprived communities and areas of market failure.

Clive Betts, the Labour MP chairing the committee, pointed out that a billion-pound programme to renovate housing in sink estates had been cut, leaving just £30m as a "transition fund". He criticised the government's emphasis on large scale projects such as high-speed rail and the London Crossrail:

The measures identified by the government focus overwhelmingly on the pursuit of economic growth. The government's measures will not attract sufficient investment for renewal into those communities where the market has failed.

There is no sign that the private sector is filling the gap as public resources are being withdrawn... Without further investment targeted at those places most in need, ministers will store up serious social, economic and environmental problems for the future.

This echoes the conclusions of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which warned that favouring more prosperous areas of growth "risks creating a spiral of decline in certain deprived areas" and will further increase the gap between affluent and poor areas.

While this is unsurprising, it is profoundly worrying at a time when the gap between rich and poor in Britain is wider than ever before, with income inequality ahead of Ireland, Japan, Spain, Canada, Germany and France.

Indeed, ministers have made little effort to even create a strategy, with no definition of what "community-led regeneration" means, and no attempt to identify why and where it is most needed.

The problem here is the same it has always been: deprived communities tend to be disenfranchised, therefore there is little political capital to be gained from their regeneration. When times are hard, it's the obvious thing to cut -- indeed, even when times are good, as under 10 years of Labour, these projects remain on the backburner. This summer's riots showed the nihilism of young people within these communities, and the need to regenerate.

Before coming to power, David Cameron himself noted the importance of wealth inequality, citing The Spirit Level in his 2009 Hugo Young lecture. Back in 206, he said:

The right test for our policies is how they help the most disadvantaged in society, not the rich.

Sadly, this laudable aim does not seem to have been borne out.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Relax – there’s new evidence that mindfulness actually works

The relaxation therapy could prevent relapses in sufferers of depression, according to a new study.

If there’s one thing that can be said of buzzwords, it’s that they almost always fall by the wayside in the end. Yet in the field of mental health, one buzzword has survived the best efforts of critics and naysayers – “mindfulness”.

First coined by Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn from the University of Massachusetts Medical School, the term mindfulness was initially characterised as a state of mind that would enable someone to pay “attention on purpose” to the present moment. Modern secular society seems to have embraced it as a form of meditation. Everything from exercise to breathing now has an associated mindfulness manual attached.

However, not everyone is convinced. For example, the recent phenomenon of adult colouring books – devised to promote mindfulness and serve as a form of therapeutic escapism – has been criticised by therapists as over-hyped and not necessarily helpful.

Meanwhile, sceptics have pointed out an alleged bias in the publishing of positive findings from trials using mindfulness as a form of mental health therapy. Researchers at McGill University in Canada “found that scientists reported positive findings 60 per cent more often than is statistically likely” after analysing 124 different published trials involving mindfulness as a form of mental health therapy. In some cases, the practice has even had a reverse effect, inducing anxiety, pain or panic.

However, a new study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry seems to demonstrate that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) can be a potent treatment in preventing and managing relapse into major depression. Led by the University of Oxford, the study’s researchers conducted the largest meta-analysis (an analysis of various different studies) to date on the therapy’s impact on recurrent depression.

The particular form of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy that was used aimed to equip patients with the skills required to successfully recognise and repel the thoughts and feelings they most commonly associated with the state of depression, in order to prevent any future relapse.

According to the study, “the MBCT course consists of guided mindfulness practices, group discussion and other cognitive behavioural exercises. Participants receiving MBCT typically attended eight 2-2.5 hour group sessions alongside daily home practice.”

Using anonymous patient data from nine randomised trials involving 1,258 participants, researchers found that 38 per cent of those who received mindfulness-based therapy experienced a depressive relapse, in comparison to 49 per cent of patients who didn’t receive treatment. The patient data covered age, sex and level of education – key inclusions, as the meta-analysis was able to show no significant influence by these factors on the therapy’s performance.

The most prominent form of remedy currently available for mental health patients is anti-depressant medication. Four of the nine randomised trials comparatively assessed the impact of therapy alongside medication, to deduce if a combination of therapy with varying doses of medication was more beneficial than medication alone. The patients from the study who received mindfulness therapy along with continued, reduced or discontinued medication were less likely to fall back into depression than patients on maintenance anti-depressants alone. This helps legitimise mindfulness as an option in combating depression’s debilitating effects and reinforces its efficacy, whether it is taken up with or without anti-depressants.

Willem Kuyken, Professor of Clinical Psychology at the Oxford Mindfulness Centre and lead author of the study, called the results “very heartening”. “While MBCT is not a panacea, it does clearly offer those with a substantial history of depression a new approach to learning skills to stay well in the long-term.

“It offers people a safe and empowering treatment choice alongside other mainstay approaches such as cognitive-behavioural therapy and maintenance antidepressants. We need to do more research, however, to get recovery rates closer to 100 per cent and to help prevent the first onset of depression, earlier in life. These are programmes of work we are pursuing at the University of Oxford and with our collaborators around the world."

Though the findings will certainly reinvigorate confidence in mindfulness, Richard Byng from the University of Plymouth and one of the co-authors said, “clinicians need to be cautiously optimistic when tapering off antidepressant medication, and treat each patient as an individual who may or may not benefit from both MBCT and other effective treatments."