Hazards Campaign comment on Prime Minster Theresa May’s announcement of a package of measures covering mental health support in our schools, workplaces and communities. 10 January 2017
Whilst the Hazards Campaign welcomes the discussion about how to help workers suffering from mental ill-health, Theresa May’s speech is woefully inadequate, full of empty words and it comes at a time when the Government is under considerable pressure because of the crisis in the NHS, yet she offers no new resources to handle the extra demands of her proposals.
The NHS crisis is based on political dogma of privatisation. A crisis which has seen children being sent hundreds of miles to find suitable mental health support. A crisis which has seen people waiting for days in general hospital beds whilst mental health beds and the support they desperately need, become available. This is being rolled out also at a time when there are funding cuts for our schools, a time when our teachers continue to be over worked, and there are excessive pressures on our children from continuous testing. Their mental health will not be improved unless all this is tackled and not by placing new demands on them.
The PM talks about a ‘shared society based on the values of citizenship, responsibility and fairness’ when in reality our society is more divided and unequal than it has ever been in recent history.
“Mental health first aid is like putting a sticking plaster over the festering sore. The injury needs to be prevented.”
The welfare system is broken and people are taking their own lives rather than face the misery of unbearably stressful work, poverty, debt and homelessness. Nowhere in the speech does the PM address this. Nowhere does she mention trade unions or safety reps who are in the front-line dealing with the mental health epidemic caused by government and employers actions.
We do not need another report, what we need is urgent action. Action which forces employers to ensure that their employees’ mental health is not made worse by their workplaces. That they are not having to do the same workload with fewer workers, or increased work on fewer hours. That at the end of their 12 hour shifts they are not ill from fatigue. That their employment is not based on a series of zero hours contracts leaving them unable to challenge injustices and unfairness or unsafe working conditions.
This is not just in precarious employment, not just in casual employment, but applies to workers in government departments, in universities, in colleges, who are all working in unacceptably stressful jobs because of the excessive demands made on them, the insecurity of their work, and often the low wages do not cover the bills.
Mental health first aid is like putting a sticking plaster over the festering sore. The injury needs to be prevented.
As there is so little done to help people with mental health problems at work at the moment, it would be hard to reject any real action to tackle this. We welcome the focus on the huge and growing epidemic of work-related stress illnesses and the way in which stress and mental ill-health have become endemic in most workplaces. However as a proposal ‘to transform mental health support’ this falls way short.
Government policies fostering inequality, injustice at work, lack of access to justice for resolutions, a culture that blames those who are ill and sick as shirkers and malingers, in-work poverty from low wages that do not pay the bills creating debt and insecurity exacerbated by zero hours and other insecure contracts, and the endlessly increasing pressures upon workers are all major causes of mental ill-health at work. There is no clear acknowledgement that these and the way work is organised, is making so many workers mentally ill.
Tackling the work factors that cause stress is essential to ‘drive work with business and the public sector to support mental health in the workplace’. Much of the proposal focuses on individuals already suffering and we welcome the promise to provide more help and support and to ‘review recommendations around discrimination in the workplace on the grounds of mental health’.
However, Government policies and workplace practices are driving this huge epidemic of work related depression, anxiety and other mental ill-health.
If Theresa May’s speech is not to just become a speech which at best mentions mental illness and at worst it is a deflection from the current NHS crisis, then we need mental health support to be treated more seriously, with more resources, achievable targets, support for trade union safety reps and for all actions by employers which make people ill, to be dealt with more severely.