Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Let's have Health and Safety for Mad...

I welcomed the announcement that mental health would have equal parity with physical health in the NHS. I also welcomed the Lib Dem policy of ensuring that this extends to equal treatment via waiting times, funding, and levels of available care. I do however feel that there is a massive hole in mental health strategy in this country, which no party is adequately addressing. I do think that my own party, the Lib Dems, could address it however.

During the industrial revolution there were a great many injuries/deaths in the workplace due to lax health and safety standards. One of the really positive outcomes of industrialisation has been the focus on improved health and safety in the workplace, in my view. There were also many deaths due to holes in medical knowledge, which have since been addressed through ongoing research and through the creation of the NHS, and also through improvements in things like hygiene.

Lib Dem policy on mental health is beginning to address the fact that mental health treatment is years behind physical health treatment in terms of research, priority, and access. What no party is really doing is addressing the other side of this equation, which is prevention. No party seems to me to be looking at how we can genuinely improve our overall wellbeing, and thus reduce the need for people to be treated for mental ill health in the first place.

This isn't entirely the case, of course. There is research into the causes of mental ill health taking place, and this helps with prevention. This has led to things like highlighting the danger of drugs and alcohol, as well as advice on diet and lifestyle. Diet and lifestyle certainly play a big part in physical health, and research has shown they play a part in mental health. Work around ending the stigma around mental health is also helping with recovery, reducing severity, and reducing recurrence.

These positive moves still leave a massive issue to be addressed, however, which is the interaction between the workplace and our mental health. Just as factories harboured many physical dangers during the industrial revolution, so do offices harbour many psychological dangers in the present day. Be it long hours, lack of sufficient down time, bullying, harassment, or stress, the culture of our workplaces can have a huge effect on our mental wellbeing and likelihood of ill health.

Many workplaces have begun to skate around the edges of this through stress management policies, and the odd billionaire has made headline grabbing changes that serve to empower workers to take control of their free time, but Government and the political parties have been far too silent on the subject of making the workplace psychologically safe for the employee in my view. This is perhaps because it may involve a level of intervention that would enrage millionaire donors.

A starting point for me would be to make Mental Health a protected characteristic in its own right within the Equality Act, but there's so much more that can and should be done. I want to see politicians looking at the whole culture of work and the workplace, at hours, at down time, at shift patterns, at workplace/office design, at the daily commute, at managerial structures, even at the strategic aims of companies, because all of these can affect our wellbeing.

Ironically, I suspect that doing this would be very popular with employees, but would horrify those who bankroll politicians, including the trade unions (who rely on continuing issues with employers to exist). Failing to truly look at the contribution of the workplace to mental health however will simply leave us in a situation where we steadily increase spending on treating the problem while barely reducing its prevalence, which for me is completely unsustainable in the long term.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Kent Online Reporting on Unaccompanied Asylum Seekers - My comment

Kent Online has published a story about unaccompanied asylum seekers in their 20s being "allowed" into Kent's schools. Local charity Kent Refugee Help highlighted the article to their mailing list and is in the process of penning their response. In the meantime, I decided to add my voice to the heated debate on the site. The article is here. My comment is below. Make of both what you will.

"As somebody who has actually taught unaccompanied asylum seekers in a Further Education college, stories like this make me really sad. I've taught asylum seekers and I've taught English kids. Given the choice I'd teach asylum seekers every time. They're respectful, polite, willing to learn, hard working, and all of this despite (often) having experienced things that would make grown men weep with despair.

There are cultural differences, yes. There are problems with damaged young people being dropped into an ill-prepared state education system, totally. There are a few "bad apples" seeking to play a system that is put in place solely to assist our fellow human beings, of course. But all this sensationalist nonsense does is appeal to the lowest common denominator. Get a grip Kent Online, and remember your humanity!"

Friday, 10 October 2014

UKIP? Expect a Nightmare Wakeup Call.

So UKIP have managed to bag themselves their first MP in a Tory area, while almost giving Labour the surprise of a lifetime to boot. All of this off of the back of claiming to be something new and exciting in British politics, while they quietly mop up (and prop up) failed politicians and angry opportunists by the bucket load.

The biggest irony of UKIP is just how old they really are. Their ideas come from Thatcher, with extra Euro scepticism, their candidates come from the Conservatives, with a smattering of ex-BNP, and their message of protest comes from the Lib Dems, with added scapegoating of the weak and the foreign (and less leaflets).

Their leadership and their donors are more representative of a trading floor than a housing estate, and their penchant for real ale is more trendy than traditional. They could (and should) be viewed as a misfit love child of the Young Ones and Upstairs Downstairs, Bottom for millionaires with an upper class Alf Garnet at the helm.

Instead, though, we find ourselves wringing our hands as they make gain after gain, unable to stop a tide of protest that has been hijacked by the very vested interests that it is aimed at railing against. Even the high intensity lense that is the nation's media can't fry these ants in our political school yard, as they nibble and make off with our picnic of power.

The answer? I see no evidence of a credible solution to the problem so far. The polished turd of anger and hatred that UKIP are currently serving up to the public isn't going to be smothered by the silk handkerchief of privilege that is the root cause and effect of our current political and financial woes as a nation. 

The greatest trick that UKIP has pulled is to convince the public that being rich, entitled, and a little bit racist is fine as long as you didn't go to the "right" school, or study PPE at Oxford, even if you are happy to make money off of the backs the poor and the weak, while blaming it all on... the poor and the weak (but less White and/or British so it's fine).

So the nightmare scenario? A 2015 in which UKIP and the Tories go into coalition, and austerity becomes a lost pipe dream of yesteryear as they gleefully destroy not just our human rights, but the last of our dwindling safety net, while they gut our public services for their buddies in big business. Who would live in a nation like this I ask you?