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New Report Recommends Mental Health Crisis Should Be At Heart Of Wider Government Policy

A new manifesto document has been signed by more than 60 leading charities (Alamy)

7 min read

A new manifesto signed by leading mental health charities has advocated for a holistic policy approach to help to "turn the tide" of rising levels of mental ill health, with Labour signalling they would be open to reviewing how central government can place mental health at its heart.

MPs across the political divide have welcomed the Manifesto for a Healthier Nation, a document produced by mental health charities which has called for more cross-government work on mental health and reform of outdated legislation to become party policies for the general election. More than 60 charities, including Centre for Mental Health, Mind, the NSPCC and Marie Curie have co-signed a manifesto which focuses on policy recommendations for government on improving prevention of mental ill health, improving equality of care and access to support services. 

The manifesto argues that holistic policy approach to mental health is needed across the whole of Government, including in education, public health, justice, social services and social housing.

"By instituting a ‘mental health in all policies’ approach, the Government can embed a new way of making decisions that will benefit all of us," the report said.

Recommendations include restructuring how Government decisions are made by putting in place a ‘Mental Health Test’ during the development of policies and by restoring the public health grant to its 2015 level with an annual £1bn boost. 

The organisations involved also repeated the call for reform of the Mental Health Act to “reduce the use of coercion and tackle racial disparities in the mental health system” and backed up by investment in the mental health estate.

"We recognise that our recommendations amount to a very significant financial investment," the report continued.

"But the evidence demonstrates that, without it, the financial and human costs will be even greater as more people become more unwell."

A number of MPs from different parties told PoliticsHome they considered the manifesto’s recommendations to be positive and achievable – despite the "significant investment" needed – and PoliticsHome understands the Labour Party is particularly interested in looking at how the mechanics of government can be more focused on prevention rather than centring policy solely on how to help people when they reach the point of acute mental health crisis. 

“We have not committed to that but mental health is such a broad area we would want to make sure that everything is being looked at," a Labour source said, explaining that Labour would be carrying out a "whole of government" review as part of a wider plan to make the workings of government more efficient.

They added that many of the points in this manifesto were “similar” to what Labour believes and wants to do once it has carried out its Mental Health Strategy Review, led by former MP Luciana Berger. PoliticsHome understands the review is expected to be completed in around the next six weeks, when its recommendations will then be presented to shadow ministers.

Preet Kaur Gill, Labour's Shadow Minister for Primary Care and Public Health, told the manifesto's launch event in Parliament on Tuesday that it was important for both charities and government to come up with packages that "actually support the challenges that people are grappling with".

"We just need to share that good practice and be able to go out with public health initiatives, of course with the NHS and primary care. There is so much to do in this space."

In response to the manifesto, Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting said Labour had a “plan to end sick note Britain”.

“We will provide 2 million more appointments and operations at evenings and weekends to cut NHS waiting lists, we will recruit 8,500 more mental health professionals to tackle the mental health crisis,” he said.

“Our plans are fully costed, fully funded, paid for by scrapping tax breaks for the wealthiest.”

Labour has already committed to reforming the Mental Health Act in the next King’s Speech if they get into government.

Labour MP Rachael Maskell, who is a member of the Health and Social Care Committee, told PoliticsHome the report set out “very clear” ambitions to address rising mental health needs.

“If funding is invested into these services alongside specialist staff, it will be good for the individuals, the economy and in addressing the social determinants of ill health, like poverty, poor housing and inequality,” she said.

“This manifesto will deliver a proactive and responsive services for the right care in the right way.”

Liberal Democrat MP and spokesperson for education Munira Wilson told the launch event of the manifesto that ensuring parity between physical and mental health conditions continued to be a priority for her party.

“I do worry that because there are some real massive challenges facing the NHS, the media and political discourse tends to focus on physical health, but actually, they don't often factor into that mental health,” she said.

“So we need to get clarity in terms of our political discourse as well.”

Some Conservative MPs also welcomed the manifesto. James Morris, also a member of the Health and Social Care Committee, told PoliticsHome that he particularly agreed with the emphasis on cross-government strategy touching on the work of many different departments.

“I've argued consistently over the last decade or so that the government should adopt a cross-government strategy for mental health because it touches so many different aspects of different departments… it's across the whole piece and so I think that's absolutely the right approach, trying to get better integration across the whole piece in terms of a strategy.”

The government’s former 10-year mental health plan was scrapped last year, with mental health instead brought into the Major Conditions Strategy which encompasses multiple physical and mental health conditions. 

At the launch event of the charities’ manifesto, multiple representatives from mental health and youth organisations told PoliticsHome they “do not expect much” from the Major Conditions Strategy, and raised concerns that with a focus on chronic long-term physical health, there might be a lack of emphasis on preventing the worsening mental health crisis among young people. A Resolution Foundation report this week showed that young people with mental health problems are more likely to be out of work than their healthy peers, with 21 per cent 18-24 year-olds with mental health problems unemployed between 2018 and 2022, compared to 13 per cent of those without mental health problems.

Speaking at the launch event, Morris added that during his time as an MP he had seen mental health becoming more and more prominent in the Conservative Party’s manifesto at each general election.

“I think it has gone up that priority list of actual concerns in the electorate, and it's important that we respond to that,” he told PoliticsHome.

“We need to push ahead. It's an election year, everybody's going to be setting out their priorities. And one thing that I've been wanting to do is to make sure that in our manifesto we have lots of commitment to increasing investment in mental health services, in developing a cross-government strategy and making good the promise that we made on implementing the Mental Health Act… and I'll be campaigning on that myself.

"After many years of not being a priority, [mental health] does need its own plan and it needs its own focus."

Morris told the launch event that cross-party working had been essential in "pushing the boulder up the hill" and making mental health more of a political priority, including work from himself, Berger and former Lib Dem MP and minister Norman Lamb.

Tory MP and chair of the Health Select Committee Steve Brine said his committee would be studying the manifesto “with great interest”.

“I think it will be of much help to us as we get underway with the mental health stream of our major prevention inquiry,” he said.

“The fact it focuses on that aspect is really welcome and spot on.”

The Department for Health and Social Care has been contacted for comment.

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