With a little over seven months until the General Election, all parties are gearing up to charm the electorate. A repeat of the hung parliament of 2010 is unlikely to be the ambition of any of the main parties, and it certainly doesn’t seem to have been terribly popular amongst the electorate.
Thus it was that I followed Nick Clegg’s speech on mental health provision at the Liberal Democrat Party Conference with interest. Having spent several years working in a range of mental health services, I applaud the fact that it is clambering up the political agenda, if rather more slowly than I would like. On the face of it, then, the content of his speech was positive: 75% of people referred for difficulties such as low mood and anxiety will be seen within six weeks; all those referred for psychosis will be seen within two weeks, funded with £120m over two years. Mental health charities were enthusiastic, but a closer look reveals rather more.
Clegg’s party has been in Government for over four years. In those four years, it has privatised healthcare, including vast swathes of mental health. It has drastically reduced funding for social care and support services. It has slashed Housing Benefit and, courtesy of Workplace Capability Assessments, terrorised those on benefits. Its policies have led to the poor and the disabled being demonised by the media and the public at large. It has cut the number of beds available for people with mental health problems by 10%. It has presided over people being ferried halfway across the country for acute admissions because inpatient units are at breaking point. It has cut funding to such an extent that recruitment has been frozen.
In my own profession of clinical psychology, this is especially evident: I know of services in which the waiting time for an assessment is nine months. Austerity is bad for our mental health: our waiting lists are increasing at exactly the point at which our capacity is reducing. Clegg’s Coalition Government has been implicated in every bit of this wretched tale. In short, it has decimated the mental health system and ridden roughshod over those who require it.
Having spent four years watching this sustained assault on mental health services, I see no reason to be enthused. Clegg’s proposals relate to waiting times; nothing has been said about how clinicians are meant to meet those targets without a sustained recruitment drive. We have limited capacity; we can’t simply see more people because Clegg tells us we ought to. We can’t do more, with less. Clegg is no fool: he is well aware of this. But he is also leader of a party which is likely to be decimated at the coming election. One can hardly blame him for trying to appeal to the electorate. I just wish he wouldn’t make promises which he will break to a group he and his peers have systematically persecuted over the past four years.