"For now, it makes it all the more important for those of us within the party who want to see mental health taken seriously keep fighting, so that progressive policies lead to permanent change."
The last Labour led Parliament was dissolved on the 12th April 2010. Since then, we have fought, and lost, three general elections, in an increasingly polarised country. Yet, against this picture one of the continual positives for the party has been how we have lead the way when it comes to mental health policy.
This hasn’t been an sudden transformation but rather the work of successive parliaments and manifestos. In 2010 ‘mental health’ was only mentioned in Labour’s manifesto in relation to the armed forces, as part of a commitment to ‘continue to strengthen mental health provision in partnership with the Combat Stress charity’ . By the 2015 election however, the fourth of Labour’s NHS pledges was to ’give mental health the same priority as physical health, with a new right to access talking therapies’ (the same ‘parity of esteem’ approach that the Tories have since promised but failed to deliver). This was alongside later pledges on NHS staff training, an increase in mental health spending on young people and access to talking therapies within 28 days. A clear, proactive role for public services and the state in mental health care was outlined. This has been strengthened since by the creation of a Shadow Minister for Mental Health and the policies within the dedicated mental health section in the broader ‘Healthcare for All’ chapter of the 2017 manifesto.
But this progress does not mean that we can rest. Labour may be the leading party when it comes to mental health but there is a lot more work to be done. We need to be clear about how new resources will be integrated within the wider NHS. How should be invest to make sure that people living in deprived or rural areas, often the last places to benefit from new initiatives in healthcare, receive the same access to mental health services as those living in affluent or highly urbanised areas? We must also set out a strategy for approaching mental health in the workplace, in terms of both stigma and care. Should employers contribute towards mental health care for stress, anxiety or depression linked to issues at work? How can we ensure that workers aren’t forced out of jobs because they’re needs cannot be met?
The final step required is a Labour government. What is more, however good our policy, mental health is an issue that is unlikely to decide an election and as such will always be at risk of being left behind. Although June’s election tested this theory, as a rule voters reward or punish politicians on promises made regarding the economy, jobs and security and not on what are still seen as secondary issues, such as whether they have delivered for sufferers of mental illness. One day that may be different. For now it makes it all the more important for those of us within the party who want to see mental health taken seriously keep fighting, so that progressive policies lead to permanent change.
Patrick Thompson is a Young Fabian member. Follow him on Twitter at @PatchThompson92