David Cameron talks to Professor of Neurology Nick Fox during a visit to the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery. Photograph: Getty Images.
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To tackle our mental health crisis we need to reduce inequality

The government still prefers to spend money on expensive and complicated solutions, rather than cost-effectively addressing causes.

It was recently reported that poor mental health costs the UK economy £70bn a year, a sum equivalent to 4.5 per cent of our GDP. This is nothing short of a national disaster, primarily in terms of ruined lives but also in terms of lost productivity and economic inefficiency. 

It is also, most infuriatingly, an avoidable disaster. We know that mental health correlates strongly with income inequality, and that a reduction in inequality could significantly reduce mental health problems across the UK. But as with many of the economic and social problems associated with our high level of inequality, we seem to prefer to spend money on expensive and complicated solutions, rather than cost-effectively addressing causes. The cost of inequality can be seen measured in the billions we spend on our welfare state: on the nurses, doctors, police, probation officers, prison staff, psychologists and psychiatrists and all the physical buildings and equipment that we provide for these professionals to do their work. Poor mental health drives up the demand for all of these services and the people and assets that deliver them.

This sticking-plaster-on-a-dam approach is also creeping into more and more areas of our economy, not just the public sector. At the lower end of the income spectrum, people are being crow-barred back into work that many are not fit to take on and, once in their new jobs, they are then struggling to stay in them. Further up the income ladder, more and more employees are being urged to be more resilient and a whole industry has now been spawned to help people cope with workplace stress and perform better. Some employers, in a quest to give their staff mental toughness and "edge" even seek to introduce the benefits of sports or military training into their workplaces, despite their businesses bearing no relation whatsoever to a sports arena or a battlefield.

The probable context for all this is the so-called "global race" in which many of our politicians seem to believe we are engaged. Even if we are tempted to accept this rather depressing rats-in-a-sack worldview, our chances of success will surely be far greater if we reduce inequality and thereby tackle the major cause of the various health and social ills that hold back our individual and collective economic performance. In our increasingly insecure, under-employed, low-paid and long-hours economy it would seem fanciful that success will be achieved by simply telling everyone to pull themselves together, "lean in" and work harder.  

Carrying on as we are clearly entails massive and sustained threats to our health and well-being. We have a choice: we will either succeed together as part of a fair, robust and supportive economy - or we will each strive individually to gain a short-lived and illusory edge in the unfair, jagged and rickety Heath Robinson-esque economic model we have now. Economics and compassion both strongly suggest that rather than forever patching people up when they fall, we should be doing more to prevent them falling in the first place.

Bill Kerry is a co-founder of The Equality Trust

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The World Cup you’ve never heard of, where the teams have no state

At the Conifa world cup – this year hosted by the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia – ethnic groups, diaspora communities and disputed territories will battle for footballing glory.

Football's European Championship and the Olympics are set to dominate the back pages over the next few months. How will Team GB fare in Rio? Will the zika virus stop the tournament even going ahead? Will the WAGS prove to be a distraction for the Three Lions? And can Roy Hodgson guide England to a long-awaited trophy?

But before the sprinters are in their blocks or a ball has been kicked, there's a world cup taking place.

Only this world cup is, well, a bit different. There's no Brazil, no damaged metatarsals to speak of, and no Germany to break hearts in a penalty shootout.  There’s been no sign of football’s rotten underbelly rearing its head at this world cup either. No murmurs of the ugly corruption which has plagued Fifa in recent years. Nor any suggestion that handbags have been exchanged for hosting rights.

This biennial, unsung world cup is not being overseen by Fifa however, but rather by Conifa (Confederation of Independent Football Associations), the governing body for those nations discredited by Fifa. Among its member nations are ethnic groups, diaspora communities or disputed territories with varying degrees of autonomy. Due to their contested status, many of the nations are unable to gain recognition from Fifa. As a consequence they cannot compete in tournaments sanctioned by the best-known footballing governing body, and that’s where Conifa provides a raison d’être.

“We give a voice to the unheard”, says Conifa’s General Secretary, Sascha Düerkop, whose world cup kicks off in the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia at the end of this week.

“We are proud to give our members a forum where they can put themselves on the map.

“From that we hope to give back in the long run and invest in the football infrastructure in our member nations to help them grow.”

The two week footballing celebration starts with an opening ceremony before Kurdistan and Székely Land kick off the tournament. It follows on from 2014’s maiden competition which saw The County of Nice avenging a group stage defeat to Ellan Vannin from the Isle of Man, to take the spoils in the final via a penalty shoot-out.  There were some blowout scores of note however, with South Ossetia smashing Darfur 20-0 and Kurdistan beating the Tamils 9-0 at the event which took place in Östersund, Sweden. Neither of the finalists will be returning to the tournament – throwing down the gauntlet to another twelve teams. 

This, the second Conifa world cup, is testament to the ever-expanding global footprint of the tournament. Abkhazia will welcome sides from four continents – including Western Armenia, the Chagos Islands, United Koreans in Japan and Somaliland.

Despite the “minor” status of the countries taking part, a smattering of professional talent lends credibility to the event. Panjab can call on the experience of ex-Accrington Stanley man Rikki Bains at the heart of their defence, and the coaching savoir-faire of former Tranmere star Reuben Hazell from the dugout. Morten Gamst Pedersen, who turned out for Blackburn Rovers over 300 times and was once a Norwegian international, will lead the Sapmi people. The hosts complete the list of teams to aiming to get their hands on silverware along with Padania, Northern Cyprus, and Raetia.

A quick glance down said list, and it’s hard to ignore the fact that most of the nations competing have strong political associations – be that through war, genocide, displacement or discrimination. The Chagos Islands is one such example. An archipelago in the Indian Ocean, Chagos’ indigenous population was uprooted by the British government in the 1960s to make way for one of the United States' most strategically important military bases – Diego Garcia.

Ever since, they've been campaigning for the right to return. Their side, based in Crawley, has crowdfunded the trip to the tournament. Yet most of its members have never stepped foot on the islands they call home, and which they will now represent. Kurdistan’s efforts to establish an independent state have been well-highlighted, even more so given the last few years of conflict in the Middle East. The hosts too, broke away from Georgia in the 1990s and depend on the financial clout of Russia to prop up their government.

Despite that, Düerkop insists that the event is one which focuses on action on the pitch rather than off it. 

“Many of the nations are politically interested, but we are non-political,” he says. 

“Some of our members are less well-known in the modern world. They have been forgotten, excluded from the global community or simply are ‘unpopular’ for their political positions.

“We are humanitarians and the sides play football to show their existence – nothing more, nothing less.”

The unknown and almost novel status of the tournament flatters to deceive as Conifa’s world cup boasts a broadcast deal, two large stadiums and a plush opening ceremony. Its aim in the long run, however, is to develop into a global competition, and one which is content to sit below Fifa.

“We are happy to be the second biggest football organisation,” admits Düerkop.

“In the future we hope to have women’s and youth tournaments as well as futsal and beach soccer.”

“Our aim is to advertise the beauty and uniqueness of each nation.”

“But the most important purpose is to give those nations that are not members of the global football community a home.”

George Weah, the first African winner of Fifa World Player of the Year award remarked how “football gives a suffering people joy”.

And after speaking to Düerkop there’s certainly a feeling that for those on the game’s periphery, Conifa’s world cup has an allure which offers a shared sense of belonging.

It certainly seems light years away from the glitz and glamour of WAGs and corruption scandals. And that's because it is.

But maybe in a small way, this little-known tournament might restore some of beauty lost by the once “beautiful game”.