The call by six leading mental health organisations for the government to prioritise mental health in the forthcoming emergency budget is timely, but more funding for services is crucial.
Last week’s Queen’s Speech signalled a busy time ahead for Parliament, as the new Conservative government starts to enact swathes of its manifesto. But one part of it simply mustn’t be overlooked – the commitments to mental health.
As is customary in the post-election period, leading organisations in each sector come out and say what they want the government to focus on in the new Parliament. So it is that 6 organisations – Centre for Mental Health, the Mental Health Foundation, Mental Health Network, Mind, Rethink Mental Illness and the Royal College of Psychiatrists – have laid out what they think the government’s mental health priorities should be in its first 100 days.
In brief, they are: ensuring fair funding for mental health; giving children a good start in life; improving physical healthcare for people with mental ill health; improving the lives of people with mental ill health, such as with better employment support; and enabling better access to mental health services.
It is hard to make a case against any of those aims being given priority. But while none of these are new, it is nonetheless worthwhile reiterating them because, as yet, they haven’t been delivered and the sector has to collectively keep flagging them until they are.
The top priority in the document is for ‘fair funding’ for mental health. The organisations called for a commitment in the July emergency budget and the Comprehensive Spending Review later in the year, to increase levels of investment in mental health services in real terms, over the lifetime of the Parliament. It also wants the commitment – made in March’s budget – to increase investment in mental health services for children and new mothers by £1.25 billion over the Parliament, to be restated.
One of these should be straightforward – there would be huge amounts bad publicity if the commitment to children’s mental health services were dropped and I can’t see the Tories doing that, no matter how emboldened they are now that they don’t have the Lib Dems to consider.
However, whether the other commitment is met is another matter. After all, funding for mental health services was cut, in real terms, by 8.25% – almost £600 million – over the course of the last Parliament. We know that austerity will be with us for another 5 years, and that more cuts to local authority budgets are coming. Social care is not one of the nationally protected budgets and historically has been near the front of the queue when choices over cuts are made. I don’t see that changing. Given how much has already been taken out of local authority budgets, we could see some valued mental health services disappearing altogether in the next few years.
The government did reiterate its commitment to parity of esteem for mental and physical health in its manifesto, and more funding, you would think, would be a key part of achieving that objective. But we also know that cutting the deficit is a major goal and may well win out when it comes to resource allocation.
If this is the case, then the goal of parity of esteem will remain just that and many people with mental ill health will remain unable to access the services they need, when they need them. As a result, come 5 years’ time, the same organisations may very well be putting out the same calls to the next government.