Response to Theresa May's Shared Society speech

Posted on Wed 11 Jan 2017

Share this

Yesterday, Prime Minister Theresa May announced her government would act on the ‘burning injustice’ of mental health and inadequate treatment. She announced extra funding for prevention and a new white paper to look at the links with education.

The Foundation welcomes the Prime Minister’s renewed focus on mental health. However, we feel that the government needs to go further and be more ambitious to really address the mental health in the UK. In particular, action on mental health must address race equality and the health inequalities faced by communities.

Our work on mental health crisis care found that many black and minority ethnic people with severe mental health issues were trapped in a vicious cycle. Poor access to housing, issues with the benefit system, fragmented public services, and the criminal justice system all combined to keep people in situation of near-permanent crisis. What should be a supportive and caring system was impersonal at best and hostile at worst.

In one case, a man with severe mental illness was regularly sectioned by the Police because his immigration status meant he was ineligible for healthcare once discharged from hospital. This situation had persisted for years, and was detrimental to the health of his family. In another, the person had become locked into a cycle of homelessness and crime due to his mental health – but secure, decent and supported housing was the key to starting his recovery. In his own words, “I would have died on the street had it not been for this place [the specialist housing scheme.]”

The high and rising rates of suicide among in UK prisons and immigration detention centres is of particular concern and requires a fundamental rethink of the justice system. Progress around the use of police cells for people in crisis needs to be replicated throughout the system. Our work on race, mental health and criminal justice found that black and minority ethnic people were more likely to access mental health services through the criminal justice system than through the health system. While parts of this agenda have been incorporated into the Lammy Review, a commitment from government to reverse this situation would be welcome. Reducing or ending the UK’s reliance on incarceration, particularly for immigration purposes, would also reduce the mental health issues created by the system.

The extra funding is to be welcomed, particularly the focus on prevention and on ensuring access to funding from small community and voluntary groups. Our research with MHPF showed that these groups were trusted more by black and minority ethnic communities, and were often developing the good and best practice – particularly as they were able to offer more holistic and non-medicalised support. However, these groups faced regular funding crises and found themselves struggling to survive. The amounts announced by government will still fall considerably short, both of the level of need and of the cuts experienced by small voluntary and community groups whose funding from councils has been particularly badly hit.

Putting equality at the heart of mental health policy will help tackle the ‘burning injustice’ spoken of by the Prime Minister. The challenge will be whether the commitment and the funding to support it will go far enough to make a real difference.