Can you tell us about your work for Mind on employment/welfare reform?
I am the lead Policy and Campaigns Officer at Mind on issues relating to Welfare Reform, Employment, Debt and Poverty.
My role aims to increase Mind’s influence and impact on how these issues affect people with direct experience of mental distress. I engage a wide range of stakeholders from people with direct experience of mental distress to Government Ministers in evidence-based campaigns and policies that will lead to tangible improvements in law, policies and practices for people experiencing mental distress.
More specifically, my work on welfare reform involves responding to the numerous consultations on welfare reforms and lobbying to change previous Welfare Reform legislation. Mind is also a member of the Disability Benefits Consortium, which brings together a wide range of disability organisations, cancer charities, older people’s organisations, advice services, carers’ organisations and other organisations to lobby and campaign on welfare benefits as they relate to disabled people.
A part of my role is to consult with people with experience of memtal distress who claim benefits to find out what the real issues and solutions are. I also support people to campaign on these issues individually.
Do you believe the government and opposition are listening?
No. Mind remains concerned that the Government appears to have ignored what Mind tells them and some of the key findings of Dame Carol Black’s review of the health of the working age population in the UK and has, instead, placed disproportionate emphasis on pursuing a system of sanctions and compulsion.
The opposition parties, especially the lib dems, understand the issues and we were able to introduce some safeguards to the Bill for people who experience mental distress but it remained an uphill struggle to fight against the general direction of travel that the Government was taking as this Bill was building on previous reforms of the benefits system.
Can you tell us about your work for Mind on debt/poverty issues?
Since May 2008 I have been leading Mind’s ‘In the red: debt and mental health’ campaign, which aimed to raise awareness of the high levels of debt among people with experience of mental distress, and the negative impact that debt and mental health problems have on each other.
There are three main objectives to Mind’s ‘In the red’ campaign:
1) To ensure banks and other creditors have a better understanding of mental health in order to support people with experience of mental distress better
2) To ensure better advice and support services are available for people with experience of mental distress
3) To encourage health and social services engage with the issue of debt and mental health
As a result of the campaign, more advice and support about debt is now available to people with mental distress, both directly and through mental health services. The Government has committed to ensuring that mental health services will extend their capacity to provide financial advice, through employment advisers located within the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme, who will be trained to give advice on debt issues. A GP factsheet was co-produced by Mind and has been disseminated widely. Mind participated in the production of guidance for health and social care professionals to help them engage with this issue. The Government has opened the NHS Credit Crunch Stress line for individuals affected by the recession. Mind has also been working with Moneysavingexpert.com on an information booklet on money and mental health for people with mental health problems.
In addition to these successes, Mind has become recognised as an important stakeholder and expert on the relationship that can exist between debt and mental health problems, and wider issues relating to vulnerable consumers. This has ensured that mental health is on the agenda of financial institutions, energy and water companies, creditor agencies and Government departments focussing on financial matters. Notable examples include being invited to participate and review the Office of Fair Trading Irresponsible Lending project, and being commissioned to consider how HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) might better support its customers who have experience of mental distress.
What has been the response from the political parties?
We have mainly been targeting Government departments to discuss a number of issues:
- Vulnerable consumers (BERR/BIS)
- Bailiff regulation (MoJ)
- Irresponsible lending (OFT)
- Financial inclusion (DWP)
- Access to affordable credit (DWP)
Response from Government has been positive. Financial problems are now being recognised as something that can impact on someone’s mental health and requires interventions.
What would the perfect mental health service look like to you?
The perfect mental health service would focus on prevention and cure. Good mental wellbeing isn’t just about treatment, it’s also about prevention, and by focusing on the factors that take their toll on our wellbeing in the first place, we would have a chance at achieving better mental health for everyone.
The future of a mentally healthy society has to see all corners of government putting the wellbeing of the population at the centre of what they do, and incorporating it into everything from employment services to housing and town planning.
However, efforts to improve everyone’s wellbeing should not draw attention from the fact that in many areas, basic mental health services are still lacking, people are still stuck on waiting lists for crucial treatments and there is a long way to go before everyone can access support as and when they need it. Improvements in general wellbeing and in mental health services are both needed, and we need to ensure that one doesn’t happen at the expense of the other.