Tight budgets mean mental healthcare isn’t a possibility for millions in Britain. Photo: Flickr/Lee Haywood
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Austerity is making life unbearable for those with mental health conditions

Strangulation of funds has seen the NHS Mental Health Trusts lose £253m, 2.3 per cent of their funding.

The core ideal of the NHS, that makes it so beloved by British people, is its promise of healthcare free for all. That promise has now become incompatible with the reality of austerity.

By 2020, the NHS will require an extra £30bn just to keep services at their present level. This strangulation of funds has seen the NHS Mental Health Trusts lose £253m, 2.3 per cent of their funding. These cuts translate into a dramatic loss of vital support for those with mental health conditions.

Half of early intervention programmes targeted at young people have been cut. The LSE estimates 30,000 people with mental health conditions have lost their social care, while 1,700 beds have been cut. Over a fifth of doctors said they had sent a child over 200 miles away from their families for treatment, and a similar number admitted sectioning people just to get them a bed. There are huge regional disparities too, as Birmingham City Council reduced its budget for adult mental health by an incredible 94 per cent.

Austerity has left the mental healthcare system in tatters. With all these cuts, universal healthcare at the point of need in Britain is now a myth. Less than a third of people with common mental health conditions get any treatment whatsoever, while only a third of people with illnesses as serious as psychosis and schizophrenia are on treatment.

I suffer from severe and chronic depression. When I moved to Brighton as a student, I suffered a breakdown, and after encouragement from a close friend, sought help. I was told that it would take at least three months to receive any treatment. For me, like millions of other people in Britain, mental healthcare wasn’t a possibility. The charity Mind have called this "a disgrace", while Rethink Mental Illness called it "scandalous", yet austerity is due to continue whoever wins the next general election, with Labour pledging to keep to Tory cuts after 2015.

Much of austerity falls on local government, who spend most of their budgets on social care. As early as 2011, just a year into the coalition, four out of every five councils scrapped care for people with "low" or "moderate" disability needs, an added punishment for people with the most debilitating mental health conditions.

But austerity doesn’t just take away people’s support. It causes poor mental health too. Academics are now coming to the conclusion that austerity translates into a death sentence for some. Stephen Platt, Emeritus Professor of Health Policy Research at Edinburgh University, says, "the rise in suicide in the UK wasn’t inevitable. On the contrary, it was the consequence of a deliberate policy choice: that of austerity." According to research he cites by Samaritans, those in the poorest communities are ten times more likely to take their own life than the affluent. Austerity is at its core a class issue, choosing to privilege the right of the wealthy to pay less tax ahead of the right of poorer communities to a basic standard of mental healthcare.

The slogan of our resistance should be this: austerity kills. We need to make the simple case that policy-makers have a choice: either they clamp down on tax avoidance of £70bn, put banks under democratic control like the TUC demands, or people will continue to suffer mental distress and commit suicide in a Britain where governments prioritise the defence of the wealthy over the rights of those of us with mental health conditions, to receive the treatment we need and deserve.

James Elliott is on the National Executive of the National Union of Students, and represents disabled students in the UK. 

James Elliott is Deputy Editor at Left Futures. He tweets @JFGElliott.

Daily Mail
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Who "speaks for England" - and for that matter, what is "England"?

The Hollywood producer Sam Gold­wyn once demanded, “Let’s have some new clichés.” The Daily Mail, however, is always happiest with the old ones.

The Hollywood producer Sam Gold­wyn once demanded, “Let’s have some new clichés.” The Daily Mail, however, is always happiest with the old ones. It trotted out Leo Amery’s House of Commons call from September 1939, “Speak for England”, for the headline on a deranged leader that filled a picture-free front page on David Cameron’s “deal” to keep Britain in the EU.

Demands that somebody or other speak for England have followed thick and fast ever since Amery addressed his call to Labour’s Arthur Greenwood when Neville Chamberlain was still dithering over war with Hitler. Tory MPs shouted, “Speak for England!” when Michael Foot, the then Labour leader, rose in the Commons in 1982 after Argentina’s invasion of the Falklands. The Mail columnist Andrew Alexander called on Clare Short to “speak for England” over the Iraq War in 2003. “Can [Ed] Miliband speak for England?” Anthony Barnett asked in this very magazine in 2013. (Judging by the 2015 election result, one would say not.) “I speak for England,” claimed John Redwood last year. “Labour must speak for England,” countered Frank Field soon afterwards.

The Mail’s invocation of Amery was misconceived for two reasons. First, Amery wanted us to wage war in Europe in support of Hitler’s victims in Poland and elsewhere and in alliance with France, not to isolate ourselves from the continent. Second, “speak for England” in recent years has been used in support of “English votes for English laws”, following proposals for further devolution to Scotland. As the Mail was among the most adamant in demanding that Scots keep their noses out of English affairs, it’s a bit rich of it now to state “of course, by ‘England’. . . we mean the whole of the United Kingdom”.

 

EU immemorial

The Mail is also wrong in arguing that “we are at a crossroads in our island history”. The suggestion that the choice is between “submitting to a statist, unelected bureaucracy in Brussels” and reclaiming our ancient island liberties is pure nonsense. In the long run, withdrawing from the EU will make little difference. Levels of immigration will be determined, as they always have been, mainly by employers’ demands for labour and the difficulties of policing the borders of a country that has become a leading international transport hub. The terms on which we continue to trade with EU members will be determined largely by unelected bureaucrats in Brussels after discussions with unelected bureaucrats in London.

The British are bored by the EU and the interminable Westminster arguments. If voters support Brexit, it will probably be because they then expect to hear no more on the subject. They will be sadly mistaken. The withdrawal negotiations will take years, with the Farages and Duncan Smiths still foaming at the mouth, Cameron still claiming phoney victories and Angela Merkel, François Hollande and the dreaded Jean-Claude Juncker playing a bigger part in our lives than ever.

 

An empty cabinet

Meanwhile, one wonders what has become of Jeremy Corbyn or, indeed, the rest of the shadow cabinet. The Mail’s “speak for England” leader excoriated him for not mentioning “the Number One subject of the hour” at PM’s Questions but instead asking about a shortage of therapeutic radiographers in the NHS. In fact, the NHS’s problems – almost wholly caused by Tory “reforms” and spending cuts – would concern more people than does our future in the EU. But radiographers are hardly headline news, and Corbyn and his team seem unable to get anything into the nation’s “any other business”, never mind to the top of its agenda.

Public services deteriorate by the day, George Osborne’s fiscal plans look increasingly awry, and attempts to wring tax receipts out of big corporations appear hopelessly inadequate. Yet since Christmas I have hardly seen a shadow minister featured in the papers or spotted one on TV, except to say something about Trident, another subject that most voters don’t care about.

 

Incurable prose

According to the Guardian’s admirable but (let’s be honest) rather tedious series celeb­rating the NHS, a US health-care firm has advised investors that “privatisation of the UK marketplace . . . should create organic and de novo opportunities”. I have no idea what this means, though it sounds ominous. But I am quite certain I don’t want my local hospital or GP practice run by people who write prose like that.

 

Fashionable Foxes

My home-town football team, Leicester City, are normally so unfashionable that they’re not even fashionable in Leicester, where the smart set mostly watch the rugby union team Leicester Tigers. Even when they installed themselves near the top of the Premier League before Christmas, newspapers scarcely noticed them.

Now, with the Foxes five points clear at the top and 7-4 favourites for their first title, that mistake is corrected and the sports pages are running out of superlatives, a comparison with Barcelona being the most improbable. Even I, not a football enthusiast, have watched a few matches. If more football were played as Leicester play it – moving at speed towards their opponents’ goal rather than aimlessly weaving pretty patterns in midfield – I would watch the game more.

Nevertheless, I recall 1963, when Leicester headed the old First Division with five games to play. They picked up only one more point and finished fourth, nine points adrift of the league winners, Everton.

 

Gum unstuck

No, I don’t chew toothpaste to stop me smoking, as the last week’s column strangely suggested. I chew Nicorette gum, a reference written at some stage but somehow lost (probably by me) before it reached print.

Editor: The chief sub apologises for this mistake, which was hers

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle