Friday, February 04, 2011

What I still love about Nick Clegg!

Oh...........the highs and lows of being a political anorak! From despair to hope to.............?

I feel a bit like someone who has been given a big bowl of beastly bugs to eat, washed down with a glass of the finest champagne! What do you do?

So, in the midst of serious concerns about the lumps and bumps of the coalition futon...........Nick Clegg delivers - and big time - on a real commitment to improve mental health services for young people.

Long suffering readers will know that the issue of mental health services is one that is close to my heart, having grown up with a bi-polar father and having been to hell and back with my sister over the past few years. It has been bad enough for her, but for young people the service has been patchy at best and non existent at worst. A young man I worked with some years ago and am still in touch with, a young man who turned up at my office one day with rope marks on his neck where he had tried to hang himself, recently told me about his experience in prison. Having been bullied and threatened inside he told me he would rather still be there as "at least they were helping me with my mental health issues".

I know this is an issue that is close to Nick's heart and he gets how important it is to identify problems early, he has been justifiably angry at the way the last government were happy to send our service men and women into illegal wars, but far less willing to ensure they had the right mental health care on their return. So full marks to him and Paul Burstow for what is a brilliant achievement!

However (you knew there would be a however?!) I must urge Nick to recognise how important it is to have an holistic approach. It's the "ambulance at the bottom or fence at the top of the cliff" scenario. For example - as the Princes' Trust Macquarie Index demonstrates, being NEET (Not in Education Employment or Training) has a devastating impact on our young people's mental health with 48% reporting problems. We know that being in debt has an impact on people's mental health. My genuine fear is that the £400m will be swallowed up by increased demand as a direct result of the government's lack of ability to carry out robust impact assessments of their decisions as well as failing to consider any cost benefit analysis.

So my message to Nick is this. I know your heart is in the right place, I'd just like to see more evidence of it connecting to your head! Let's please use this opportunity in government to question knee-jerk decisions that pull the rug from under our young people's feet. What is the point of trumpeting this additional funding if other decisions you are party to increase our young people's poor mental health? Why increase tuition fees, abolish EMA, cut the Future Jobs Fund, slash benefits, abolish the Financial Inclusion Fund, decimate the Youth Service, cut funding to vital youth information advice and counselling services............etc., without any prior consideration of what you put in their place? And how does any of this reflect our declared values that " one should be enslaved by poverty (or) ignorance...."?

As a party we allegedly chose to enter this coalition "in the national interest". Sadly, my fear is, that what is happening is driven not by the national interest, but by the short term political interests of the Tory party and their buddies. If this government REALLY cared about the long term interests of this nation they would be prepared to consider the long term needs of our most vulnerable children and young people and protect both the services and the income they rely on.

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