Update: Mental Health Act Review

Contacts made with politicians and TUC members about human rights issues, including those related to the Mental Health Act Review.

Many thanks to all those of you who have contacted your MP in support of NSUN’s campaign about the Mental Health Act Review and/or have sent me material about other, vital human rights issues such as the disproportionate impact of austerity on people with lived experience. The information now enclosed is to update you about a variety of opportunities which I have had to input both to political leaders and to the TUC on NSUN’s behalf:

  1. Meeting on 25 October with Marsha De Cordova, the Shadow Minister for Disabled people:

This was a meeting organised by Inclusion London for representatives from user-led disability groups in Wales, Scotland, England and Northern Ireland. Its purpose was to share with Marsha De Cordova our concerns about the government’s shortcomings in implementing  the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), including its failure to take adequate notice of user-led organisations. I spoke particularly about continued devastating impacts which austerity has had on people with lived experience, about concerns that the Mental Health Act Review is falling significantly short of a fully human rights based approach and about worries that the Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill will weaken human rights if it becomes law in its present form.  Marsha De Cordova was responsive on Labour’s behalf and said, too, that she would do her best to encourage a response from Barbara Keeley, the Shadow Minister for Mental Health and Social Care.

2. Parliamentary launch of the Deaf and Disabled People’s report about UK progress with the UNCRPD

The launch was held at Parliament. It was co-chaired by Lord Low, a politician, law scholar and member of the House of Lords and Tracey Lazard, Inclusion London’s Chief Executive. The meeting was attended by a handful of MPs, by members of user-led groups and by people supportive of full human rights for Deaf and Disabled people. Ellen Clifford from Inclusion London introduced the report. The UNCRPD Committee had asked for an update about the UK government’s implementation of Article 19 (on independent living and inclusion in the community), Article 27 (on working and employment) and Article 28 (on adequate standards of living and social protection). The Committee wanted this feedback within 12 months of its Concluding Observations about the UK in October 2017, because it had particularly serious concerns about issues falling under these Articles. As submissions can be made by user-led groups too, Inclusion London had collated a report from Deaf and Disabled people’s organisations, including NSUN.

There were then 5-minute presentations from Rhian Davies of Disability Wales, Heather Fiskin of Inclusion Scotland, Patrick Malone of Disability Action Northern Ireland, myself representing NSUN, Aine Jackson from the British Deaf Association and Simone Aspis on behalf of Tara Flood from the Alliance for Inclusive Education. I mentioned NSUN’s Manifesto in general, including its close links with human rights issues set out in the UNCRPD. As part of this, I spoke of the need for the Mental Health Act Review to comply with rights related to Article 19, including the right to full community inclusion and an end to involuntary hospitalisation and treatment. Overall, it was clear that, throughout the UK, major steps towards UNCRPD compliance are still needed.  However, there were some encouraging notes. In Scotland, it seems that some progress is being made towards improving conditions for Disabled people. In addition, the Welsh government is now taking a serious look at implementation of the UNCRPD, as was mentioned in an earlier e-bulletin. The meeting provided a further opportunity to build alliances with other user-led groups. It was also positive to receive some support from MPs. For example, Stephen Lloyd, a Lib Dem MP at the time, stated that the Lib Dems plan to push for the inclusion of the UNCRPD in domestic law.

3. Letters about the Mental Health Act Review for leaders of the main political parties, All Party Parliamentary Groups and Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights

During October, both the letters about the Mental Health Act Review from NSUN and co-signatories were sent to relevant leaders of the main political parties, as well as to the Review Chair and Vice Chairs. The focus at this stage was politicians in England, because Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own mental health legislation and the Review is not currently under major consideration in Wales; the Welsh government has some separate measures of its own. Relevant All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) and the Joint Committee on Human Rights also received copies of the letters. Simon Wessely said that he and the Review’s Vice Chairs did not have time to reply to our further letter! There has been a limited response so far from politicians, presumably not helped by the crucial stage currently reached in Brexit negotiations. However, Jackie Doyle-Price, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Mental Health, Inequalities and Suicide Prevention, wrote back to acknowledge the letters and to indicate that further consideration will be given to points raised in them once the final Review report has been published. The Joint Committee on Human Rights sent an appreciative response and said that its members will take points made fully into account at any legislative stage; their role starts then. Now that the final Review report is out, we will be making further contact with lead politicians, particularly once the key parliamentary vote about Brexit has occurred.

4. Contact with the Inter-Ministerial Group on Disability set up in the spring/summer of 2018

The stated aim of this Group is to tackle obstacles to Disabled people’s full participation in society. When Philip Connolly, Policy and Development Manager at Disability Rights UK, attended a meeting of the Group on 3 December, he helpfully raised issues on behalf of NSUN and co-signatories to NSUN’s two letters about the Mental Health Act Review, referring Jackie Doyle-Price to points in these letters. He also addressed concerns about the Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill, in particular  the lack of consultation with people  who have learning difficulties/disabilities, the government’s failure to provide accessible material about the Bill and the absence of an equality impact assessment.  Whilst it is not yet, clear what impact Philip’s points will have, the meeting has been yet another channel for raising concerns.

5. Trade Union links

5.1 Support for the UNCRPD from the TUC Disabled Workers’ Conference and the TUC Disabled Workers’ Committee

At the TUC Disabled Workers’ Conference in May 2018, over 200 disabled trade union members agreed that it is time for the UNCRPD to be integrated into UK law, a point fully agreed by the TUC Disabled Workers’ Committee. Conference members also want to work with Disabled people and their organisations to demand that the recommendations from the UNCRPD enquiry in 2017 are implemented fully by the UK government.

Following this, Ann Galpin, Co-Chair of the Disabled Workers’ Committee, used a parliamentary meeting on 25 October to speak on behalf of the TUC and the TUC Disabled Workers’ Committee. She emphasised the need to implement the UNCRPD. She also gave examples, such as the importance of:

  • Promoting independent living and community inclusion as basic human rights
  • Dealing with lacks in social protection which mean that Disabled people and their families are amongst the hardest hit
  • Addressing barriers to employment and disability pay gaps.

5.2 Meeting in opposition to Universal Credit

On 3 December, the TUC Disabled Workers’ Committee, Unite the Union and  Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) held a joint meeting in Parliament calling for an end to Universal Credit. This was to mark the International Day of Disabled Persons 2018. It followed on from a motion by the TUC Disabled Workers’ Conference to stop and scrap Universal Credit; the motion was then passed by the TUC Congress. The meeting was set up with the support of Marsha De Cordova, who gave a powerful opening to it. It was attended by Disabled people who are on the receiving end of Universal Credit and other Disabled people who want to campaign against it.

Speakers at the meeting included Dave Allan from Unite the Union, Miriam Binder  from DPAC, Tracey Lazard who raised issues on behalf of both Inclusion London and the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance (ROFA), and myself. There were compelling presentations about the misery and poverty which Universal Credit so often causes Disabled people, both those who are employed and those who are not. I reinforced this in my own presentation, focusing in particular on issues for people with lived experience of mental distress. I also mentioned that people with this  experience face ‘a double whammy’. That is because, when  we struggle with major problems caused by austerity measures, we are particularly likely to have a mental health crisis and then, in addition to the trauma caused by the benefits system, to be made subject to detention and compulsory treatment. The latter frequently cause additional trauma and themselves represent further breaches of human rights.

The floor was then opened for further comments and suggestions. These included an emphasis on our all campaigning together. There was also an emphasis on the important role which the TUC can and needs to be playing in influencing dynamic action from the Labour party to address both poverty issues and the injustices faced by people with lived experience under mental health legislation.

You can read our full charted breakdown of the Review recommendations here.

Dorothy Gould: NSUN consultant and policy lead for the Mental Health Act Review