Nick Clegg will announce new measures to improve mental healthcare. Photo: Getty
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Clegg's plan to improve mental healthcare shows his party still stands up for the young

After years of campaigning for mental health concerns, the Lib Dem leader will announce some bold new reforms that will particularly benefit young people.

Nick Clegg, who decried the second-class status given to mental health in the NHS in his first ever PMQs question, is to announce some bold new measures in his speech to party conference today.

He wants to campaign to end what he labels “the Cinderella treatment” of mental health services. His improvements to mental healthcare consist of both a government policy announcement, and a party promise.

The immediate government policy is, from April 2015, to guarantee treatment within six weeks, or 18 weeks at the “absolute maximum”. This will also involve £120m funding to improve mental health services.

On top of this, the Lib Dems will put this policy as a pledge on the front page of their manifesto, while also promising to extend extra money to improve mental healthcare in the next parliament. This will be part of their plan to raise an extra £1bn for the NHS budget each year.

Clegg will say:

This is a great liberal cause. Let’s be the first political party to give mental health the status it deserves.

The Lib Dem leadership is making this a red line issue in the event of a future pact with another party, promising to put it “smack bang” on the front of its manifesto, where they admit there is limited space. However, it is highly unlikely either Labour or the Tories would disagree with such a plan, particularly with part of it kicking in as government policy the month before the election next year.

What is significant is to whom such measures appeal. There is a clear emphasis on how they would benefit young people. Clegg will talk a great deal about how poor treatment of mental illness “threatens the opportunities available to hundreds and thousands of our fellow citizens”. There is an emphasis here on those who are starting out their adult lives being held back by a lack of sufficient healthcare in their youth. A spokesperson for the Lib Dem leader said these plans are about “opportunity – particularly for young people”.

Included in the targets is the plan that patients experiencing psychosis for the first time will be seen within two weeks. First-case psychosis patients are almost 100 per cent young people, aged 18 to 25. And Clegg will add that he has already made progress on helping young people, saying “we’re massively expanding talking therapies and transforming the help children can get as they move into adulthood”.

Clegg will also use an anecdote in his speech referring to a group of “young mental health service users” who spoke to him about their experience of care.

This focus on the young is striking. Young people and first-time voters have lost a great deal of trust in the Lib Dems following Clegg’s broken tuition fees pledge. Although it is wrong to say the party is simply chasing young voters using these mental health measures – Clegg has long been a champion of this subject, and young people in general are far less likely to vote anyway – the broader appeal of the party is clear here.

Opportunity for the young, and an early boost from a supportive state, are very much in keeping with what the Lib Dems have long stood for. They lost their way on this in coalition a bit – for example, their universal free school meals policy was too controversial to revive the party. But today’s announcements show an emphasis on opportunity for the young continues to beat at the party’s heart, below the tuition fees-addled surface.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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Will the Brexit Cabinet talks end in a “three baskets” approach?

The joy of the three baskets idea is that everyone gets to tell themselves that it will be their basket that ends up the fullest. 

It's decision day in the Brexit talks. Again.

The Brexit inner Cabinet will meet to hammer out not its final position, but the shape of its negotiating position. The expected result: an agreement on an end state in which the United Kingdom agrees it will follow EU regulations as it were still a member, for example on aviation; will agree to follow EU objectives but go about them in its own way, for example on recycling, where the British government wants to do more on plastic and less on glass; and finally, in some areas, it will go its way completely, for instance on financial services. Or as it has come to be known in Whitehall, the "three baskets" approach.

For all the lengthy run-up, this bit isn't expected to be difficult: the joy of the three baskets idea is that everyone gets to tell themselves that it will be their basket that ends up the fullest. There are two difficulties: the first is that the EU27 won't play ball, and the second is that MPs will kick off when it emerges that their preferred basket is essentially empty.

The objections of the EU27 are perhaps somewhat overwritten. The demands of keeping the Irish border open, maintaining Europol and EU-wide defence operations means that in a large number of areas, a very close regulatory and political relationship is in everyone's interests. But everyone knows that in order for the Conservative government to actually sign the thing, there is going to have to be some divergence somewhere.

The bigger problem is what happens here at home when it turns out that the third basket - that is to say, full regulatory autonomy - is confined to fishing and the "industries of the future". The European Research Group may have a few more letters left to send yet.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.