Mental health organisations have welcomed new legislation that scraps outdated laws that discriminate against people with mental health problems.
The Mental Health (Discrimination) Bill will now pass into law after completing its Parliamentary stages and put an end to archaic laws that interfere with the rights of people with mental health problems from participating in jury service and becoming or remaining a company director.
It will also change a law that stipulates that MPs lose their seats if they are sectioned under the Mental Health Act for more than 6 months, even if they make a full recovery.
Gavin Barwell (pictured), MP for Croydon Central and sponsor of the Mental Health Discrimination Bill, said: "To our shame, the law still discriminates against those with a mental health condition. As well as stopping this, the Bill sends a clear message from Parliament that discrimination is wrong: that people have a right to be judged as individuals, not labelled or stereotyped.
“I’m very proud that my Bill will become law, but in truth this is only the beginning. As a society we still have a long way to go to tackle the forms of discrimination and the inequalities that people with mental illness face. The Bill will drag the law of this land into the 21st century, but now is the time for us all to realise that having a mental health condition is nothing to be ashamed of or to keep a secret and that mental health should be treated on a par with physical health. Only when that happens will the discrimination truly be over.”
Mental health charities have welcomed the passing of the Bill. Paul Jenkins, CEO of Rethink Mental Illness, said: “We are delighted that this bill has passed through Parliament. It's absurd that millions of capable, intelligent people have been excluded until now from key aspects of citizenship, simply because they have a mental illness. People with physical illnesses such as cancer would never be treated in this way. This Bill makes it clear that people with mental health illness can and should be able to contribute to society on an equal footing to everyone else.”
“But this is only the start, and there is still a long way to go to tackle other forms of discrimination that people with mental illness face. The Government said in its mid-term review that it wants to put mental health on a par with physical health. We urge it to put that commitment into practice in the NHS constitution and in policy and legislation.”
Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, agreed, adding: "Parliament has not just repealed antiquated rules that have no place in our society; it has send a clear message to the wider public that discrimination on mental health grounds will no longer be tolerated. We are a step closer today to achieving true equality for the one in four of us who have mental health problems.
"We look across all parts of society where stigma is present to continue this quiet revolution - in the workplace, in public services and in education. This is a huge step forward, but we won't stop until everyone with a mental health problem gets the respect they deserve."
However, Anxiety UK said the Bill is being undermined by the Government’s own policy making and cites the recent consultation on the Blue Badge parking scheme by the Department of Transport (DoT) as an example.
While Nicky Lidbetter, Anxiety UK’s CEO, welcomed the Bill as a step in the fight for equality, she said it was “disappointing” to see that such a positive step forward was not matched by policy making that treats those same sufferers equally.
“Only last month the DoT rejected calls to include in the Blue Badge scheme those diagnosed with a mental health condition, intellectual or cognitive impairment but who are able to walk,” she said.
“As a result thousands of Blue Badge parking permit holders who suffer from an anxiety or mental health disorder are set to lose out when the Government introduces new eligibility criteria this year as part of its welfare reforms.
“We can only hope that with the passing of this Bill the Government will recognise that it is time they had a more joined up approach to policy and law making and started to practice what it is preaching.”