Five Tests for the Government’s 10-year Plan for Mental Health and Wellbeing
Thursday 7 July 2022 marked a bit of a milestone. It’s not just the date Boris Johnson decided to step down as Prime Minister. 11.45pm was the deadline for responding to the government’s 10 year plan for mental health and wellbeing. In this blog Jeremy Bernhaut, our head of policy and influencing, looks at the five tests that will tell us if this plan will succeed or not.
In many ways, a cross-government plan to improve the nation’s mental health has never been more needed. For example, more people than ever before are claiming disability benefits as a result of a psychiatric disabling condition. So, at Rethink Mental Illness, we’ve been pushing for a plan like this for a long time. And, despite the current political turbulence and lack of clarity on who will be in charge, it’s critical the plan still goes ahead. You can read a summary of the recommendations we’ve made for various government departments, but what will determine whether it’s a success or not? Here are five tests that’ll tell us whether it will or won’t succeed:
1. Action across all government departments
Firstly, the plan, needs to include actions across all government departments. Improving the nation’s mental health can’t be left just to the NHS and Department of Health and Social Care. Our mental health is much more complicated than that. It can both affect and be affected by our income, education, housing and so much more. Yes, we want to see the plan include all the specific recommendations we’ve made but a broader key test of the plan is whether it meaningfully includes actions from all government departments – including those whose work is currently linked with worsening people’s mental health such as the Department for Work and Pensions.
2. A cross-country, joined-up approach
Secondly, the devolved nature of the United Kingdom means that the UK government isn’t responsible for all government departments across the UK and is therefore not responsible for all government policies that can impact on mental health. Whereas the Department for Work and Pensions is responsible for welfare policy in Scotland, the Department of Health and Social Care is only responsible for England and the Scottish government has responsibility for health in Scotland. This means the different parts of the UK need to work together to ensure there are appropriate plans in place in all of the UK. It’s good to see the Scottish government has begun a consultation on its own plan. But plans are needed across the country and they all need joining up to ensure the whole nation is covered.
3. Proper funding
Then we get to the money! It probably won’t come as a surprise to many that mental health (and in particular mental health social care) isn’t funded anywhere near as much as it needs to be. In October we responded to the Autumn Budget and (3 year) comprehensive spending review which will do little to address the crisis in mental health. To date, no additional budget has been allocated to the plan meaning any additional work that results from it would need to be funded through existing departmental settlements. This would come at a cost of something else, potentially having unintended consequences which in their own right might be harmful for mental health or other areas of our wellbeing. Crucially, the plan cannot be seen as an alternative to properly funding and resourcing mental health services and anything additional that results from it must be properly funded.
4. Involvement of people with lived experience
Has everyone who needs to participate in developing the plan had their say? The government published a discussion paper three months ago, alongside a series of questions. We’ve all had a chance to input, right? Well, not necessarily. Yes, organisations like Rethink Mental Illness and our partners in the Mental Health Policy Group are constantly on the look-out for ways to improve government policy and we have been chomping at the bit to respond.
But what about small charities? Community groups? Families and people with direct experience of mental illness? People regularly tell us how hard it is to navigate such a fragmented system, repeating themselves over and over to multiple different professionals to get the support they need. They see all to clearly where the strains on the system and its workforce are. So, their perspective is critical.
"A comprehensive plan to tackle mental health needs insight from across the board, including organisations who might not work exclusively on mental health but see the impact on mental health of the areas they focus on."
This might include domestic violence charities, education providers, local community groups and so many more. That means reaching organisations that might not have the resources to respond to government consultations or people who might not usually think it’s something for them. We’ve tried our hardest to promote engaging in the call for evidence. We funded and resourced workshops for people and smaller organisations, to encourage them to respond alongside providing information and support from our policy team on how to draft responses to government consultations.
Participants explored our experiences – both positive and where improvement would be welcomed, and how this can be translated into a consultation response. But three months isn’t a long time when you think of it like this, and particularly for people and organisations who are busy battling multiple challenges to being understood and accessing the care they need. So, the important bit is what happens next. Government must make sure as many people and organisations as possible participate in co-producing the plan in the next phase of its development. And, because of the prejudice, racism and discrimination that we know exists in the mental health system, it needs to be as diverse a group of people as possible to ensure the plan reflects the cultural inclusivity that’s needed and addresses inequalities.
5. Delivering services that offer a positive experience.
Finally, and probably the biggest test of the plan’s success is how people experience the reality of what results from it. When the plan and call for evidence were first announced, we publicised it, including on our social media channels and were quite surprised by some of the responses. It was clear several people had a sense of apathy or even despondency about the plan and didn’t see its aspirations as realistically matching the experiences they’ve had.
It makes sense that if you have a 10-year plan and you prioritise and resource preventing mental health from deteriorating as early as possible, we should see the positive benefit from that earlier on. But people need to see tangible improvements in order to feel the sense of hope that is needed. The experiences people have as a result of the plan will always be the most crucial test.