With the appointment of Luciana Berger as shadow minister for mental health, the Labour party is at the forefront of holding this government to account on mental health services provision in England and Wales. On Tuesday, I challenged the minister for community and social care, Alistair Burt, on mental health services for children and young people. The government had made an explicit funding commitment of £250m, but there will be a shortfall of funding this year. This is yet another broken promise, with long-term negative consequences for children in desperate need of specialised services.
Even trying to determine how much is going to be spent this year has been difficult, with the Department of Health and the minister offering contradictory spending figures. Burt boasted of the ‘additional’ £173m funding this year. Meanwhile, the Department of Health admitted funding would be just £143m this year. Regardless of which figure is correct, the fact remains that mental health services are underfunded and the government has failed young people in need of help.
Early mental health interventions are crucial. A 2014 report by the chief medical officer discovered that 50 per cent of adult mental health problems start before the age of 15, and 75 per cent before the age of 18. This government talks the talk on mental health, with a commitment to achieving ‘parity of esteem’ between physical and mental health. But, with services currently being underfunded, it must be judged by deeds, not words.
Here in Hounslow, we have received an increase of £536,000 for children’s mental health services. This funding, though welcome, is due to services being chronically underfunded for years. The government has acknowledged the pressure that services in our borough have been under, but there is still more that needs to be done to give young people adequate provision. The increasing demand for mental health services will continue to be a challenge and we have a long way to go both locally and nationally.
The minister remarked that I must be ‘delighted’ that extra funding for youth mental health services has been guaranteed in my constituency. But as youth services are underfunded across England and Wales, and while waiting lists for specialised services spiral out of control, I remain far from delighted with the unacceptable situation we are faced with. When the government promises £250m, it should be able to deliver on that promise. It is not good enough that investment will be just £143m (or even £173m) by April next year, and the Labour party will continue to hold the government to account and stop the postcode lottery of adequate mental health provision.
Ruth Cadbury is member of parliament for Brentford and Isleworth. She tweets @RuthCadbury
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