Interview with Amy Whitelock, Mind Campaigns

Q. What is your background in mental health?

Several of my close family members and friends have had experience of mental health problems, including bipolar disorder, anxiety and depression. My experiences of supporting them and observing how mental health services can often be inadequate gave me a fierce passion to work for Mind and campaign for equal rights for everyone who experiences mental distress. I previously worked for two years in Parliament and have an MSc in Public Policy from University College London.

Q. Can you tell us about your work for Mind on social inclusion and rights?

I lead on Mind’s ‘Another assault’ and ‘In the red’ campaigns. Another assault is Mind’s campaign for equal access to justice for victims and witnesses with mental health problems. Mind is working with criminal justice agencies to improve the experience of victims and witnesses with mental distress. Mind has achieved a number of successes to date, including:

  • This year the police standards agency, the NPIA, will launch a mandatory mental health training module for police officers, which was developed with input from Mind.
  • The Association of Chief Police Officers is publishing thorough guidance for police officers to accompany the training, and Mind fed in our learning from Another Assault to ensure the guidance focuses on victims and witnesses.
  • The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has developed a policy on victims and witnesses with mental health problems, as a direct result of Mind’s lobbying.
  • The CPS is also producing legal guidance for prosecutors on mental health, which we expect to be published shortly.
  • A landmark High Court ruling found the CPS had breached the Human Rights Act by denying a victim justice because he had a diagnosis of schizophrenia and prosecutors thought he may be an unreliable witness. The judge cited Mind’s evidence in his ruling.
  • In 2009 the House of Commons Justice committee published an inquiry into the CPS highlighting mental health as a specific area of failing – which was based largely on Mind’s evidence to the committee hearings.

Our Another assault campaign has succeeded in raising awareness of the extent of crime and victimisation faced by people with mental health problems, and the barriers they face when they seek justice. Now we are working with criminal justice agencies to ensure these commitments on mental health result in real changes to everyday practice on the frontline. Mind is currently producing a police guide on mental health, which showcases local good practice. In the summer this will be distributed to all 43 police forces in England and Wales. Mind is also producing a mental health toolkit for prosecutors, to help them make better decisions around mental health.

In the red is Mind’s campaign about debt and mental health, which recently won RADAR’s ‘Doing money differently’ award for making more debt advice and support available to people with mental distress, helping them become more financially capable and confident in engaging with financial institutions. This included a money advice section of the Mind website, which has been accessed by 60,000 people, as well as our In the red campaign. Mind’s 2008 research found there is a circular relationship between debt and mental health: people with mental health problems are more likely to fall into debt, whilst being in debt is likely to cause further mental distress. Our campaign aims to raise awareness of this and support people to break the cycle. To date our successes include: the production of several publications on debt and mental health which have been widely used by people with experience of mental health problems and debt, health and social care professionals, and those working in financial services; the establishment of the Government’s NHS Credit Crunch Stressline; and direct training for local Mind associations on how to deliver financial capability training to their clients.

Mind conducted a new survey in 2009 about people’s experiences of bailiffs, which found that contact with bailiffs can have a very damaging effect on mental health. We also found evidence of bailiffs behaving in insensitive, heavy-handed or potentially unlawful ways to try and recover debts, with particularly devastating effects for people already experiencing mental health problems. Working closely with Citizens Advice, Mind is lobbying the Ministry of Justice to ensure independent regulation of bailiffs is robust and effective.

Q. What is your opinion on Labour’s record in this key area?

A key social inclusion and rights issue for Mind is employment and we are about to launch a national campaign on this issue, to help employers and employers improve mental wellbeing and productivity in the workplace. But Government also has a crucial role to play, to tackle stigma in the workplace and put in place the right incentives and support mechanisms to ensure people with mental distress are able to gain and retain employment. Labour has made a concerted effort to improve employment prospects for people with mental health problems and accepted the recommendations of independent Perkins review, acknowledging the need to provide more tailored, flexible support to help people with mental health problems return to work. After a year of lobbying by Mind and other mental health charities, Labour has also introduced a ban on the use of pre-employment questionnaires in recruitment, which will prevent employers weeding out applicants on the basis of their mental health history, regardless of their ability to do the job.

However, there is still a long way to go in improving employment support services such as Access to Work, to make them appropriate and flexible for people with mental health conditions. Mind also has long-standing concerns about the accuracy of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA), the medical assessment used to decide which stream of employment benefit a person receives, as many people have told us they have been assessed as fit for work, despite having mental health problems that impact on their ability to work. Mind is campaigning to reform the WCA and to ensure that reforms to the welfare benefits system introduced under Labour do not penalise people with mental health problems who are unable rather than unwilling to work.

Q. What has been the response of the opposition parties on social inclusion & the rights of people experiencing mental distress?

An overarching social inclusion and rights issue is the urgent need to tackle stigma and discrimination, which prevents many people with mental distress from leading full lives. Both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats have made encouraging noises around the need to tackle stigma and discrimination. For example, both opposition parties were actively supportive of our campaign to repeal section 141 of the Mental Health Act, the symbolic piece of law which states that an MP will automatically lose their seat if they are detained under the Act for six months or more. This sends a stigmatising signal that people with mental health problems are unable to recover and return to employment, so we are pleased both opposition parties have pledged to abolish s141 and hope to see this commitment realised in the next parliament.

However changing attitudes is the work of generations and what we really need is long term funding for Time to Change, Mind and Rethink’s ambitious anti-discrimination programme. Unfortunately, neither of the opposition parties have yet committed to this.

In the run up to the general election, Mind is campaigning on five main priorities we want all political parties to address if they form the next Government. In its first 100 days, we are calling on the new government to commit to:

1.    delivering a national public mental health strategy

2.    funding evidence-based campaigns such as Time to Change to eradicate mental health stigma and discrimination

3.    ensuring that the NHS offers a full range of evidence-based psychological therapies to everyone who needs them within 28 days of referral

4.    increasing support to help people with mental health problems into long-term employment, including a commitment to spend at least 25 per cent of the Access to Work budget on mental health employment

5.    funding mandatory mental health training for all frontline public service professionals, including frontline police, Crown Prosecution Service, social care, health care, welfare and teaching professionals.

Q. What would the perfect mental health service look like to you?

From my experience, everyone experiences mental distress uniquely, so good mental health services should be tailored to individual needs. For some people, medication may be appropriate, while others will respond better to psychotherapy, counselling, or alternative types of therapy. Others may require support networks or social inclusion activities like art classes, music lessons, walking groups and so on. Above all, mental health services can not be separated from other social inclusion or welfare services. Government departments, local authorities and service providers must recognise that perfect mental health services are not about traditional health services alone – that’s why one of Mind’s key general election asks is for the next Government to deliver a national public mental health strategy. The current mental health framework, New Horizons, rightly recognises that mental health problems can be caused and exacerbated by social factors, such as crime, debt, unemployment and poor housing. It also recognises that it is not the role of the NHS alone to tackle these social factors. The next government, whoever it may be, must build on this by delivering a public mental health strategy with actions and responsibilities for every government department and agency, at both a national and a local level.

Amy Whitelock
Policy and Campaigns Officer

Interview with Dr.Julian Bromly, Saville Medical Group


Q. What inspired to you to develop an interest in mental health as a GP?

I was inspired to develop an interest in mental health as a GP because early in my career I realised that this was the group of patients I clearly felt most empathy with and wanted to help as best I could. I felt that they are often the most disadvantaged in our society. When suffering from severe and enduring mental illness patients often were not treated like patients with other chronic illnesses and I felt that this was wrong and wanted to help to change that.

What is my opinion of New Labour’s record in Government re mental health?

Their record is difficult for me to take too seriously as there are often grand announcements of new initiatives which often do not amount to much because of the detail revealing that there is no new funding; for example and that any spending has to be made out of savings .I also have a sense that their policies in mental health have not respected the holistic approach to the users.

Q.The Homeless charity Crisis highlighted the growing problem of mental ill-health amongst the single homeless.What needs to be done?

In my opinion we need an increase in support services including more credit union  help for those in financial difficulties and better access to appropriate psychological services (without waiting lists)to address mental health need in this group of vulnerable people (which also include many ex servicemen/women).

Q.Organisations such as church action on poverty and Joseph row tree foundation have highlighted under New Labour the increase in social inequalities and in my opinion what needs to happen?

We need to promote opportunities for people to fulfil their potential; key areas to tackle being the inequalities in educational provision and the lack of affordable housing stock (including the shameful amount of empty houses+flats in the UK).

Q.what is my view on the Labour government’s move to a marketised ,atomised model for social care services with the need for social inclusion and cohesion?

I would you refer you to my answer about your question about Labour’s record in government re mental health; the detail is what will define this to being anything more than rhetoric and of course the funding.

Q.what would a perfect mental health service look like?

It would lead on prevention. It would specifically be able to influence the NHS and Government both locally and nationally about enhancing mental wellbeing. It would be able to help end predudice,descrimination and stigmatisation in society and the workplace. The service would be user friendly; user accessible and offer evidence based holistic care .The perfect mental health service would be seen as a priority for our society.

Q.How did you feel about recently winning a walk of thanks award from the service users?

Happy and honoured; it reflects well on the team I work with.

Interview with Mariam Kemple, Campaigns Officer at Mind

Q. What is your back ground in mental health?

My mother is a psychiatrist and so I grew up well aware of the many issues surrounding mental health and mental health services. I can’t count the number of times our dinner table conversations were taken over by the problems of the local mental health trust and my mother’s varying passion for and disillusionment with the NHS. As a result, I have always had a strong interest in mental health and was overjoyed to start working for Mind at the beginning of 2009.

Q. Can you tell us about your work for Mind over the past twelve months?

The biggest project that I have worked on is the Men and Mental Health campaign. After writing the campaign report, I have spent the last year working with Mind campaigners to lobby the Government asking for a men’s mental health strategy to be created. Now that the Government has agreed to doing this – and has commissioned Mind, along with Men’s Health Forum, to write it! – I have been busy working with service users and experts in the field of men and mental health to get the guidance paper together.

In addition to men and mental health, I have been: working with the Prescription Charges Coalition to ensure that Gordon Brown keeps his promise of eliminating prescription charges for all those with long term conditions; running Mind’s campaign for the independent and statutory regulation of counsellors and psychotherapists; carrying out a research project on wellbeing for the Department of Health; and planning the next phase of our We Need to Talk campaign that is calling for better access to a wide range of psychological therapies.

Q. What is your opinion of the Government’s record on your areas of work in Mind?

It really depends on the issue. So far, the Government has been very responsive to our men and mental health campaign but the proof will be in the pudding – once we write out guidance paper, it will be essential that the Government puts its full backing behind it and encourages mental health services to take up the paper’s recommendations. Regarding the regulation of counsellors and psychotherapists, it was actually the Government who really began to make this issue a priority when they wrote the White Paper on the regulation of health professionals in 2007.

However, the Government’s record on prescription charges has been less encouraging to say the least. Although Gordon Brown made his promise to eliminate prescription charges for all those with long term conditions in 2008, it’s a year and a half on and no further commitments have been made.

Q. What has been the response of the opposition parties over the past year?

Again, this does depend on the issue. The prescription charges campaign has found great support from the Liberal Democrats, with more than two thirds of the Party’s MPs signing one of our Early Day Motions (EDM) on the subject. However, only a very small number of Conservative MPs have signed the same EDM and we have had no indication from the Party that they would want to implement Mr. Brown’s prescription promise if they were elected.

As for the regulation of counsellors and psychotherapists, we have received warm responses from the Liberal Democrats and have been encouraged by the interest that the Conservatives have expressed in the issue. As a result, we hope that the momentum already gathering behind this subject will not be lost after the General Election.

Q. Can you tell us about what you’ll be working on over the next few months with Mind?

The two main areas of work will be writing the guidance paper on men and mental health and launching the next phase of the We Need to Talk campaign for psychological therapies.

The men and mental health work will include holding a conference on men and mental health on 30th March and gathering the opinions of service users about exactly what they think should be in the guidance paper. As part of this, we have set up a feedback form on our website to enable people to give their thoughts on this issue. You can find the feedback form here.

The We Need to Talk work will include asking service users to respond to a questionnaire on their experience with psychological therapies (an online version will be available very soon) and encouraging our campaigners to lobby their party political candidates on the issue ahead of the general election.

Q. What would the perfect mental health service look like to you?

It would truly treat everyone as an individual. Whatever types of help a person felt they needed would be available – anything from exercise on prescription to crisis houses. Mental health would be on an equal footing with physical health and all health professionals would be fully trained on the subject. Physical health, social care and mental health services would talk to each other and work together. The stigma surrounding mental health problems – particularly the stigma within mental health services – would be a thing of the past. And funding would never be an issue!

Interview with Sarah Teather MP, Lib Dem Spokesperson on Housing

Q. What inspired you to become an MP?

I was, and still am, driven by the injustice that I see all around me. Being an MP gives you a unique opportunity to actually do something about the things that make you angry.

Brent is a remarkable place, but also one of the most deprived areas in the country. I deal with hundreds of devastating housing cases every month, and I have constituents who have been left languishing on the social housing waiting list under four different Prime Ministers – two from each of the largest parties – yet still stand little or no chance of finding a permanent home. Labour and the Conservatives have been in power for several generations, and they have failed us.

Q. The Crisis charity highlighted in a report last year the growing incidence of mental ill health amongst single homeless? What would a Lib Dem government do to tackle this?

The high number of mentally ill people finding themselves without a home points to endemic failure further up the system. We urgently need to be identifying and helping mentally ill people before they find themselves in the situation where they could lose their home. My colleague, the Liberal Democrat Health Spokesman Norman Lamb has been outspoken on the need to improve metal health provision. For many years, the Liberal Democrats have campaigned to make sure that people with mental health are subject to the same 18 week target for treatment as those with physical illness.

Q. What would be the approach of a lib Dem government be compared to the other main parties concerning housing?

The Liberal Democrats would do things completely differently to the old parties. We are the only party heading into the election with a promise to invest real, hard cash in providing new homes.

Our proposal for a £1.4billion empty homes fund would, through a combination of grants and cheap loans, bring a quarter of a million homes back into use, while creating an estimated 50,000 desperately needed new jobs in the construction industry. It is quicker, cheaper and greener to do up existing homes than to build new ones – although new build will continue to be important as well.

Q. What is your opinion of the record of the Government in relation to housing ?

The Labour government have an appalling record on housing, and have abandoned the very people who voted them into office. However, Labour’s real failure on housing has been to continue the policies of their Conservative predecessors. The supply of new homes has slowed to a trickle, while waiting lists across the country have swelled to record numbers. Thousands of people have lost their home during the recession, money for decent homes has been snatched away from council tenants at the last minute, and huge numbers of young people are forced to stay at home with their parents because they can’t afford anywhere to live.

This is not a record that the government should be proud of.

Q. What is your opinion with regard to what the Conservatives have to say?

The Conservatives’ supposed solution to the housing crisis is to relax minimum space standards so that vulnerable families can be shoved into any old sub-standard box going spare. This policy not only exploits those families waiting for a home, but is blindly ignorant of the scale of the housing crisis facing us.

Only the Liberal Democrats are promising new money to spend on housing. It is a scandalous waste of resources that almost a million homes across Britain are sitting empty while people are without a home or sleeping rough. Our pledge to bring empty homes back into use would offer a life line to families on the waiting list and help those communities scarred by derelict property. The other parties need to put their money where their mouth is.

Interview with Ron Beadle, Lib Dem Candidate for Newcastle North

Q. What inspired you to become a candidate at the next general election?

I’ve been involved in politics since I was a teenager and I think from  that time on what inspires me is opposing injustice. Anybody who hasn’t got that aspiration shouldn’t be involved in politics. Everybody standing for office thinks they can give voice to what other people are saying. Standing as a candidate is about having a self-belief in your ability to raise issues that matter & argue your case.

Q. The homeless charity Crisis highlighted the growing problem of  mental ill-health amongst the single homeless? What would you do if elected to tackle this challenge?

I think vulnerable people not least people with mental health problems often suffer major vulnerabilities are suffering massively from a housing crisis that is nationwide. First thing we need is more homes and allied to that homes in the right places. So it’s a matter of economic & regional policy. The Lib Dems are committed to bringing in 250,000 empty properties to the housing market through grants to social providers & low interest loans to private providers. Additionally at the moment Simon Hughes one of our MP’s is putting legislation through the House of Commons to allow local councils to use Section 106 agreements to build social housing. These are just a couple of ways to increase the housing stock and we would also use a number of other policies for example increasing economic activity in poorer regions like the North East where councils have been demolishing houses for the past decade. So all of that is about increasing housing stock & trying to attract people to areas were the housing crisis is less acute than London & South East.

But then we have to think about specific ways to support people with mental health problems to find answers and sustain themselves in housing. Here the Government has to allow different communities to work in different ways to address local need. One example is The Aquila charity, which works with homeless people in a staged way providing accomodation & support which takes people through stages from dependant through to independent living. It seems to me and the party that homeless charities such as Aquila should be supported at a local level but not smothered by local/central Government.

Q. Organisations such as Church Action on Poverty, Joseph Rowntree Foundation have highlighted under New Labour the increase in social inequaliites and if elected what priority would you give to raising this?

I mentioned earlier that injustice was the thing that motivates me most & I’m really pleased that the Lib Dems have made fairness the No1 priority in our manifesto. So let’s talk about 2 main policies to reduce inequalities. First nobody earning £10,000 pounds or less will pay any income tax under the Lib Dems and this will be paid for by closing tax loopholes for the better off. Secondly our pupil premium will allocate more money to schools in deprived areas so that a lack of resources at home is compensated by more resources at school & one to one tutition for pupils that need it. I think you will find across a range of policies including health, housing & fuel poverty that reducing inequality will be the main  interconnecting theme.

Q. A lot of vocal criticism has been expressed by organisations such as Mind about the Government’s welfare reform proposals as failing to understand the nature of mental health problems and the support needed? What is your opinion on these proposals?

I think the Government (as so often with Welfare Reform) is bringing a sledgehammer to policy where what is needed is a series of smaller more sensitive and better tools. We have 2.7 million people on incapacity benefit, of whom a million have mental health conditions. The government seems intend on directing the whole of it’s policy towards identifying & punishing the small proportion of this group making fraudulent claims whilst the Tories share the same ambition allied to the bizarre belief that courses in positive thinking can cure a million people of what are complex and in many cases continuing mental health problems.

So what would we do? We would have an evidence based policy which  recognises both the causes & policy tools that are available in different areas and for different groups of people differ widely and we would encourage & support different types of agencies in different  areas. So far example Newcastle Futures which combines expertise from the local authority, Business & Voluntary sector has found jobs for 900 people over the past year. But this success, not least in reducing the welfare budget hasn’t received any corresponding increase in resources to continue this work. Meanwhile JobcentrePlus offices whose performance varies widely widely & which are constantly criticised by small business in particular carry on regardless. Once again I hope that people will see the same theme coming through from the Lib Dems and that is about recognising that different things work in different areas. The Government should support what works regardless of who provides the service. On a even more fundamental basis both the Tories & sadly New Labour seem to believe everybody on benefits is feckless & irresponsible where the Lib Dems always believe that people’s creativity & ability blossoms if it’s given a chance.

Q. What is your view on the Labour Government’s move to a marketised atomised model for social care with the need for social inclusion and cohesion?

This is a tricky one. Marketisation is something we would oppose as a  general principle, however I’ve said all along that we believe in things been done in different ways in different areas. So we would go down a local commissioning route & that wouldn’t rule out private sector providers.  However we would bring together Primary Care Trust and Local Authority commissioning together & give as much operational independence as possible to commissioners. In some areas I’m confident that locally determined commissioning rules will enforce quality & integration of services but there may still be areas here the dominant consideration will be cost & it could be that the private sector targets itss bids towards such authorities. What I hope the Liberal Democrats would do is to rigorously scrutinize patterns of commissioning for Health/Social Care and run local campaigns to improve quality of provision if & when this is compromised.

Steve Webb MP, Liberal Democrat Shadow Work & Pensions Secretary

Q. What inspired you to become an MP?

In the ‘80s and early ‘90s I was working as an economist at the Institute for Fiscal Studies thinktank, looking at issues relating to poverty and social policy. I tracked the gap between rich and poor as it widened and watched more and more people falling into poverty due to government policies. On a personal level, when the Conservatives won the 1992 election, I was so dismayed that I felt that I could no longer report what was happening from the outside. I wanted to get on the inside and start influencing policy and changing the direction that the country was going. I joined the Liberal Democrats as I believed that their philosophy best reflected my own, and was selected for the seat of Northavon near Bristol in 1995. I won the seat from the Tories in 1997.

Q. A lot of vocal criticism has been expressed organisations such as Mind about the Government’s welfare reform proposals as failing to understand the nature of mental health problems and the support need? What is your opinion on these proposals?

I have been highly critical of the Government’s heavy handed attempts to move people off benefits in bulk. The result is that the new Work Capability Assessment for the Employment and Support Allowance has been deeming virtually everyone fit for full time “work”, regardless of their underlying conditions, which may fluctuate or require specialised support.
Liberal Democrats believe that people must be supported back into work where this is suitable for them, and at their own pace, but we certainly do not believe in coercion. We favour a ‘partial capacity benefit’ that would allow people to do some work when they were able to, without losing benefit entitlement, as a much fairer way of supporting those with fluctuating conditions, ‘invisible’ disabilities such as autism, and mental health conditions .

Q. What is your opinion on the welfare reform proposals of the Conservatives?

The few policies that the Conservatives have so far revealed for the next Parliament are a clear demonstration of their tendency to slash benefits and cut services. Their welfare reform proposals assume that unemployment is simply about the work shy claiming incapacity benefit and nothing to do with the recession, and I am deeply concerned by their gung-ho attitude towards benefit sanctions, particulary for those with drug and alcohol addictions.
Q. During the time that New Labour has been in office poverty has increased amongst working age adults? In your opinion what needs to be done to reverse this worrying trend?

Despite Labour’s mantra that ‘work pays’, a recent study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation suggests that work is not a guaranteed route out of poverty.

Part of the problem is that the benefits system cannot keep up when people keep moving in and out of work. Jobcentre Plus is far quicker to stop someone’s benefits – including housing and council tax benefit – when they find a job than it is to reinstate them when that job comes to an end. This system needs to be reviewed so that there is more flexibility in the system for people doing temporary, part-time jobs. A partial capacity benefit would also help.

Labour’s flagship tax credit system is constantly making overpayments and underpayments so that more than two million families have been overpaid their awards at least once, and more than a hundred thousand have been overpaid more than three times. This means that, far from offering stability, families find themselves on a financial rollercoaster, never knowing if or when the Government might demand their money back. As well as restricting the number of people entitled to tax credits so that higher earners no longer receive them, we will return to a system of six month fixed payments to remove the fluctuation and uncertainty.

However, poverty goes beyond income. People need opportunities to allow them to play their full part in society. We need to do more to tackle educational inequalities, get ‘hard to reach’ groups back into employment; deal with the dramatic shortages of affordable housing; and strengthen the pensions and benefits safety net.

Q. What would define a Liberal Democrat government in terms of its approach to Welfare Reform?

We champion the dignity and wellbeing of the individual, and do not believe that those who have mental health problems or have been out of work for many years should simply be strong-armed into employment. The DWP’s own research suggests that such threats and sanctions are ineffective in forcing people to change their behaviour long-term. Instead, positive incentives to encourage people to engage with treatment have been shown to work better, and they also offer dignity to people who may be at their lowest ebb in terms of hope and self-esteem.

We want to see jobcentres that are able genuinely to tailor their support to meet the different needs of the individuals passing through their doors. We would focus on getting young people into work and have put together a package to offer them the support that they need to gain new skills, qualifications and work experience.

Liberal Democrats are committed to fighting poverty and promoting opportunity to encourage people from all walks of life to fulfil their potential.

Interview with Emma Mamo from Mind Campaigns

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 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.

Interview with Stephen Parkinson, Conservative Candidate for Newcastle North

Q. What inspired you to become a candidate at the next general election?

I was born in North Shields, and my family have lived on Tyneside for generations. So this is where my roots are, and I want to give something back.

I’m not from a typical Conservative background – my grandma grew up in Netherton Colliery and members of my family have been active in the Labour Party. But, although the North East has had a reputation for being Labour’s ‘heartland’ in the past, people here feel really let down after 13 years of Labour government.

You might have thought, with 28 out of 30 MPs in the North East coming from the governing party (including the last Prime Minster and plenty of Cabinet Ministers) that Labour would have delivered for our region. But it’s people here who’ve been hit hardest by Gordon Brown’s failures. Unemployment here is still rising even though it’s started to fall elsewhere, and there are 12 jobseekers for every new vacancy in Newcastle North. We can’t go on like this. I’m fighting for the change Newcastle needs.

Q. The homeless charity Crisis highlighted the growing problem of mental ill-health amongst the single homeless. What would you do if elected to tackle this challenge?

Crisis does great work – and I’m very proud that one of the people who helped to found it in 1967 was the progressive Conservative Minister, Iain MacLeod. So it was very fitting so see David Cameron and Grant Shapps, our Shadow Housing Minister, visiting Crisis in 2008 to launch the Conservative Homelessness Foundation. Since then, the foundation has been working with the Conservative Party – with the advice of other great charities, including the Tyneside Cyrenians – to develop policies to end rough sleeping and address the wider issues of homelessness.

One of those issues, as Crisis has highlighted, is the fact that homeless people have a particularly high instance of mental health issues. One of the things we want to do is to let stand-alone healthcare providers, including those involved with mental health, to register their services with the NHS. This will provide a greater range of services for those most in need and allow great organisations to work within the established framework of our NHS.

You can find out more about the work Grant Shapps MP has been doing on homelessness, and read his policy reports, at

Q. Organisations such as Church Action on Poverty and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation have highlighted the increase in social inequalities under New Labour. If elected what priority would you give to raising this?

A high priority. It’s a scandal that social mobility has gone backwards under Labour. The rich have got richer while the poor have got poorer – and under Gordon Brown’s tax system, it’s the poorest fifth of households who pay the highest proportion of their income in tax.

A Conservative Government will support aspiration so that people from every background have the chance to get on in life – not just the privileged few. We need to make our schools better so that everyone has a good start in life – not just the people whose parents can afford to opt out of the system. As a comprehensive school boy who got into Cambridge, that’s really important to me.

In a Conservative Britain, if you put in the effort to bring in a wage, you will be better off. If you save money your whole life, you’ll be rewarded. Our approach is clear: we will reward those who take responsibility, and care for those who can’t.

Q. If you become a Member of Parliament what priority will you give to mental health issues locally and nationally?

Mental health issues need to be given more attention anyway – but they’re all the more pressing at a time when the country is in recession, and when we’ve got thousands of service men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Independent research into the link between mental health and economic decline suggests that the scale of the recession – the longest and deepest since the Second World War – and the recent rise in unemployment could increase mental health problems by more than a quarter. That’s equivalent to 1.5 million more people suffering some kind of mental health problem.

And the Government is not doing enough to take care of members of our Armed Forces who come back from active service and who rely on the NHS for mental health care. Research published in the British Medical Journal has found that the longer personnel are deployed, the more likely they are to be at risk of developing psychological disorders and experiencing problems at home. Yet the Defence Select Committee in Parliament has found that the identification and treatment of vulnerable veterans ‘relies as much on good intentions and good luck as on robust tracking’. Both of these problems require the attention of our Members of Parliament.

Q. A lot of vocal criticism has been expressed organisations such as Mind about the Government’s welfare reform proposals as failing to understand the nature of mental health problems and the support need. What is your opinion on these proposals?

It is our moral obligation to end the culture of long-term welfare dependency in Britain. In a responsible society, individuals who are capable of working have a responsibility to work – and the government has a responsibility to help all those who can work find a job.

We’ve announced a big, bold plan to get Britain working. Instead of Labour’s numerous and bureaucratic employment programmes, we will create a single employment programme for everyone on out-of-work benefits, using the expertise of the private and voluntary sectors to help people back into work. We want to stop millions of people being written off to a lifetime on benefits, so we will reassess everyone on Incapacity Benefits. Everyone assessed as being able to prepare for work will be given specialist support to help them find a job – and those who really cannot work will continue to receive support.

At the moment, Mental Health Foundation Trusts are barred from receiving any private income. This stops them from working with independent welfare-to-work providers and employers, and means that many unemployed people and at-risk workers are missing out on the help they need. We’re calling on the Government to lift this barrier so that back-to-work providers can purchase mental health services from the NHS to deal with common client problems which prevent a return to work – and so that employers can access better occupational health services.

We are also calling on the Government to make sure unemployed people have better access to cognitive behavioural therapy, as that’s proven to double the rate at which they are able to re-enter work. The Government has been working to provide more cognitive therapists, but is concentrating the programme intensively on only just 20 out of 152 Primary Care Trusts. We want them to redistribute the funding and therapists fairly across the country, and to focus the help on unemployed people as a priority, to make sure that better links are forged with Jobcentres and back-to-work programmes.

Q. What is you view on the Labour government’s move to a marketised, atomised model for social care services?

I was particularly concerned just before Christmas when the Government’s Social Care Green Paper included plans (hidden in the small print) to scrap the Attendance Allowance and Disability Living Allowance – a move which would have hit well over 11,000 pensioners in Newcastle.

Under pressure from the Conservatives, the Government agreed that anyone under 65 currently receiving Disability Living Allowance would not have it cut – but it hasn’t confirmed that equivalent benefits (which so often pay for much more than just narrow social care) will be available in the future.

A Conservative Government will preserve the Disability Living Allowance and Attendance Allowance. We will give patients with chronic illnesses or long-term conditions access to a single budget that combines their health and social care funding which they can tailor to their own needs.

We will also take action to end the scandal of elderly people being forced to sell their family home to pay for care. We will give everyone the option of paying a one-off insurance premium on retirement, thereby protecting their homes from being sold to fund residential care costs. At the moment, around 45,000 elderly people every year are forced to sell their home to pay for residential care fees.

Interview with Catherine McKinnell, Labour Candidate for Newcastle North

Q. What inspired you to become a candidate at the next general election?

I was born in Newcastle North constituency, and live here with my growing family and lots of extended family too. As someone who has always been politically active (from campaigning for human rights at school, to promoting fairtrade goods and better recycling facilities at university), when Doug Henderson MP announced he was retiring I took the opportunity to stand for election. Who better to represent a constituency than somebody who lives in and genuinely cares about the area, and knows the day to day challenges that so many of us face?

Q. The homeless charity Crisis highlighted the growing problem of

mental ill-health amongst the single homeless what would you do if

elected to tackle this challenge?

It is a huge challenge, and the most important place to focus is on tackling the causes, which are wide and varied. We need more investment in social housing, more work to eradicate poverty, but also greater access to therapies to tackle mental illness.

Q. Organisations such as Church Action on Poverty, Joseph Rowntree

Foundation Have highlighted under New Labour ” “

the increase in social inequalities and if elected what priority would

you give to raising this?

I am pleased to see that the government is placing such emphasis on tackling the issue of social inequality. Over the last 12 years Labour has worked hard to stem the rising inequality that it inherited from the previous Conservative administration, but has had to accept that much more needs to be done. I believe one of the most important aspects of tackling social inequality is through providing access to a good education, from a very early age. That’s why I support SureStart and will fight against any cuts proposed by the Conservatives, and will also fight to see Labour’s promise to extend free nursery places from age two realised. Labour also introduced the National Minimum Wage and Tax Credits, which have helped bring many out of poverty, but once again they are under threat if Labour does not win a fourth term in government.

Q.If you become Member of Parliament for Newcastle North what

priority will give to mental health issues locally & nationally?

There is a clear link between poor mental health, worklessness, relationship breakdown and homelessness.  I think some people hoped these things would go away with the growth in prosperity after 1997, but we have seen that this is not the case – that’s why more effort is now being put in to provide greater access to treatment and therapies, but there is still so much to do. I would particularly like to see the stigma associated with mental illness removed through better understanding and treatment, so that people will not be afraid to come forward at an early a stage as possible to get the help they need. can you reconcile the Labour government’s move to a

marketised, atomised model for social care  services with the need for

social inclusion and cohesion?

The government has tried to allow voluntary and community providers, and also private sector providers, into the NHS system to encourage innovation, increase capacity and develop choice.  I do have some concerns about this approach, however I am open-minded about anything that can provide a better service to patients.  I am also pleased to see that the government is legislating for free care at home as the first step towards a National Care Service.  I want to hear all ideas about how we can meet the expanding demands for care as our population ages, and I will champion these in Westminster if elected as MP for Newcastle North.

Interview with Gareth Kane, Lib Dem Candidate for Newcastle Central

Q. The homeless charity Crisis highlighted the growing problem of mental ill-health amongst the single homeless what would you do if elected to tackle this challenge?

With mental health affecting one in four people, it is not surprising that it is so common amongst the single homeless – a terrible vicious circle to be caught in. The Lib Dems want to drastically cut the waiting times for mental health patients and improve the standard of treatment which would cut the chance of those individuals falling into homelessness in the first place. If I were elected, I would strive to ensure that all relevant services in Newcastle work together to ensure that people do not slip between the cracks.
Q. Organisations such as Church Action on Poverty, Joseph Rowntree, Foundation Have highlighted under New Labour the increase in social inequalities and if elected what priority would you give to raising this?
This is an incredibly important issue for me and one on which the Lib Dems have been leading. Social inequality rocketed under the last Conservative Government and continued to rise under Labour – a shocking legacy from both parties. Fairness is a key plank of our pre-election policy and we intend to make tax cuts for the poor to get them out of the poverty trap and to spend an average of £2,500 extra per pupil for the schools teaching the million most deprived children in the country to give them a fair start in life.

Q. If you become Member of Parliament for Newcastle Central what priority will give to mental health issues locally & nationally?

Mental health has to be a priority in a progressive society. As a councillor I come into contact with people suffering from mental health issues on a regular basis. We have some fantastic services already in Newcastle including the Crisis Skylight centre in the ward I represent, whose establishment had the full support of myself and my fellow ward councillors. But I would like to see an even more holistic approach taken to mental health issues more widely including tackling poverty, deprivation, run down neighbourhoods and green spaces. I’m not an expert on mental health, but I’m sure that more could be done to tackle the causes as well as supporting those affected.

Q. A lot of vocal criticism has been expressed organisations such as Mind about the Government’s welfare reform proposals as failing to understand the nature of mental health problems and the support need? What is your opinion on these proposals?
The poverty of references to mental health problems demonstrates that this is still a Cinderella issue for the Labour Government. I am not an expert on mental health or welfare reform, but having read the criticisms raised by Mind, it does look as if the act could better take into consideration the needs of those with mental health problems.