Mental Health Services are in Crisis

Labour candidate for Holywell, Nadine Bely-Summers, laments the Tory government’s neglect of mental health services and its impact on Oxford residents.

Eight years of relentlessly pursuing austerity has pushed mental health services to the point of crisis. This Tory government has presided over £150 million of cuts to mental health budgets in the last four years alone. Parity of esteem between mental health and physical health has become a buzzword but no action has followed yet.

The Prime Minister herself has been forced to apologise to the nation for the mounting crisis in the NHS.

Although vital services are under threat, it seems that no attention or compassion is being extended to the most vulnerable in our society who have seen their safety net taken from underneath their feet at their time of utmost need.

A recent article in the Oxford Mail highlights that a catalogue of serious failings in mental health care were identified in the health ombudsman report. A mental health patient with a complex history of mental health problems, including bipolar disorder, was discharged from a community treatment team having missed an appointment. They died shortly afterwards from a drug overdose. Another case is that of a woman who was left in seclusion after suffering an acute mental health crisis with no access to sanitary products. The woman had no option but to collect her menstrual blood in a plastic cup.

The report identifies that lack of staff compromises patient care and safety. This comes as no surprise to patients, carers, and mental health professionals like myself.

Oxford faces very specific issues in relation to recruitment and retention of health care staff. The cost of housing is very high. A 2017 study listed Oxford as the least affordable city in the UK, the average house price being 10.7 times that of average earnings. Another issue is the impact Brexit might have on the workforce. There is a high proportion of NHS workers from EU countries working in Oxfordshire. According to the House of Commons library, the number has risen to 11% in the past four years compared to a national average of 4.6%.

The Oxfordshire Unison health branch has confirmed that mental health trusts have less money to spend on patient care than they did five years ago. This contradicts the government’s claim that mental health funding is at record levels. Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group’s (OCCG) funding of secondary mental health services is amongst the lowest in the country.

Funding for mental health has decreased at a time when demand for the services has increased massively. People, particularly the young, are beset by mental health problems on an unprecedented scale. The number of students in top universities, such as Oxford, who disclosed a mental health problem in their first year have risen sharply. There is now more pressure from students and their families who wants to see drop-in centres in all universities where students can get access to help from trained mental health professionals.

In Oxford, psychiatric beds are now often at 100 percent occupancy, meaning patients might end up being treated hundreds of miles from home. Some patients are discharged too quickly from community teams. There is a long waiting list for specialised services. Psychology and psychotherapy services have momentarily closed in order to address their huge waiting list.

Funding is now diverted to Improving Access to Psychological Therapists (IAPT) services who see people with common mental health problems such as anxiety and depression and where large numbers of people can be seen, treated and discharged quickly.

In my IAPT service, therapists are pushed into seeing patients for less than the number of sessions required by the British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapists, largely in order to meet unrealistic service targets. There are now high levels of burnout across NHS mental health services as the norm is now to hit performance targets rather than provide care.

If elected as Labour candidate for Holywell, I will continue to campaign to protect mental health services. I will continue to oppose austerity and budget cuts. A Labour government will properly fund the NHS and make it fit for purposes once again.

 

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Why Labour’s New Bus Pass Policy is Crucial

I wouldn’t be at Oxford University if my parents couldn’t afford my bus pass, writes OULC Secretary for TT18, Owen Winter. 

At the end of year 11, I got a proper say in my education for the first time. For me, the choice was pretty simple: my local sixth form, which offered a small range of A-Levels; or the big Further Education (FE) College, 40 minutes down the road. The local sixth form didn’t offer the course I wanted so it seemed obvious where I would go. 

Luckily for me, my parents could fork out the £515 for an annual bus pass – I didn’t have to think about it. For many of my peers, it wasn’t so simple.

That’s because when the government raised the participation age to 18, requiring young people to stay in education or training, they didn’t raise the age of statutory transport subsidies. Essentially, if you couldn’t afford travel post-16, you were left in the hands of squeezed local councils that had no legal obligation to help. For thousands of young people in places like Cornwall, where I grew up, this is a huge problem.

So, what if you’re sick of school and want to get into the world of work? Chances are you’ll take an apprenticeship. But on £3.70-an-hour-exploitation-wages, you can’t expect to be rolling in cash. With no support at all from the Council, bus fares can make a big dent. A standard annual pass from First Kernow costs £950, and that’s just if you’re lucky enough to live on a bus route.

If apprenticeships don’t appeal to you, but you also don’t want to do A-levels, a vocational course is your next port of call. In Cornwall, that means one of the big FE Colleges. But again, how are you supposed to get there? The vast majority of college students take the bus, with travel times regularly up to two hours. Faced with unreliable services, long journey times and a £400-£500 bus pass, the nearest FE College can feel a million miles away. And that’s if you’re lucky enough to have a bus stop in your village.

Whatever you decide to do post-16, transport costs are increasingly a consideration. Sixth forms in Cornwall are closing, meaning more students travelling further from home. In this context, we can’t rely on councils to provide transport for students. Cornwall Council recently announced that it’s looking to increase the cost of travel passes from £398 to as high as £600. As you’d expect, this was met by resistance from students and parents. The Council was quick to point out that their counterparts in Devon were already far less generous, with a travel pass costing around £530. This year, Devon scrapped its travel pass scheme entirely, with parents and young people expected to make their own arrangements.

This is a massive hole in education policy. Once you reach 16, you are pushed over a cliff, forced to stay in education but with no support to get there. Some bursaries exist and some schools offer extra support but this safety net is patchy. The government shifts the responsibility on to councils and in turn, councils leave it to schools. With no funding made available and no statutory requirements, transport subsidies for 16-18 year olds are top of the list of council cuts. Young people from poorer backgrounds, from the most isolated communities and studying vocational courses – already the groups most likely to struggle in education – are made to take the strain.

North Cornwall has the second highest average travel distance for 16-18 year olds in the country at around 23 miles, but the problem is by no means unique. Research carried out by the Association of Colleges found that over half of FE students cannot always afford their travel costs. 

As for me, I loved my time at college. I studied subjects that weren’t available at sixth form and went on to study them at university. As much as I complained about the bus journey every day, I was blessed to have a bus stop near home and parents who could afford the bus pass. If it weren’t for that, I can say for certain I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Labour’s plan to give under-25s free bus travel would be life-changing. At 16, our choice of education shouldn’t be dictated by transport costs. Free bus travel would tackle educational inequality and transform rural communities. Free travel would mean more young people using buses, leading to better services and coverage, connecting the most isolated rural communities. It would take cars off the road, helping to tackle climate change, and create a generation of public transport users.

In a Britain of spiralling living costs, insecure employment and massive inequalities, free bus travel is the sort of radical policy that will redress the balance.

Austerity’s Impact on Oxford

Government cuts are hitting Oxford’s poorest and most vulnerable the hardest, writes Shaista Aziz, Labour candidate for Rose Hill and Iffley.

The last eight years of disastrous Conservative government and the implementation of its cruel, counter-productive, and sweeping austerity measures has had a profound and devastating impact on this country. According to the Institute of Fiscal Studies, in the next five years 5.2 million children in the UK are projected to be living a life of poverty.

A society is judged by how it treats its most vulnerable. On the basis of this statistic, plus the unfolding crisis in social care and support services for the elderly, and the record numbers of rough sleepers on our streets, this is a government not fit for purpose.

Up and down the country, austerity has ripped the heart out of communities and destroyed the services so many depend on.

Over the past year our newspapers, magazines, and broadcast media have been discussing issues of rising poverty in our country. Terms such as “period poverty”, “holiday hunger”, and “JAM”, short for “Just About Managing”, have become part of everyday discourse. 

Last week, head teachers from various parts of England and Wales told the BBC that malnourished pupils with grey skin were “filling their pockets” with food from school canteens due to the lack of food at home. These are scenes straight out of a Charles Dickens novel, being played out in 2018 in Tory Britain, a land where austerity is dehumanising the most vulnerable in our society.

I’m standing as a Labour candidate in the Oxford City Council elections in Rose Hill and Iffley ward, less than four miles from the city centre and the picture postcard ‘city of dreaming spires’, in order to combat this ongoing austerity.

At the start of 2018, figures released by The End Child Poverty coalition found that 7351 children are estimated to be living in poverty in Oxford, equivalent to 26.4 per cent of the child population. Some city wards, including Rose Hill and Iffley, have poverty rates of up to a third.

If you talk to people in Rose Hill and Iffley, as I do regularly whilst out canvassing, you will hear the stories and concerns of decent, hard working people describing how they are finding it harder and harder to make ends meet. These are people working long hours. Often, women are working in more than one job. These are the people known as the “working poor”, again terminology straight out of a Dickens novel.

One man I spoke to a few weeks ago described the challenges he faces: “Look at my hallway. It’s full of damp and I have these little children here. Three of them have breathing problems because of this damp. I work hard. I am at work pretty much all the time, but everything is so expensive and it’s not easy.”

Many of the people I’ve spoken to in Oxford over the past six months are earning the minimum wage and work very long hours in low paid, often unstable work. It is these conditions that are also creating uncertainty for children forced into further poverty with their families.

According to the Institute of Fiscal Studies, almost 70% of children in poverty live in a working household, as opposed to an unemployed one, and as demonstrated, the situation in Oxford is no different. This statistic reflects the stark way poverty has changed over the past twenty years. Work no longer pays, with poverty increasing as real wages have fallen and salaries have stagnated. Austerity has exacerbated this crisis of poverty by hitting the most vulnerable in our society the hardest. Many people are trapped on a hamster wheel; they are working harder than ever to keep the wheel turning, exhausting themselves into the ground, only to find themselves overstretched by the end of the month.

Yet the Conservative government in Westminster continues to press on with its damaging agenda. In March, it announced changes to benefits, which could cause as many as one million children to lose their free school meals. Under the new legislation, families in England on universal credit will have their income threshold for free school meals slashed to £7 400 a year. 

Sam Royston of the Children’s Society, writing in The Guardian, concluded that the total number of children impacted by the changes to the benefit system could be as high as one million, the majority from working class families.

According to Labour, the government’s net expenditure on services for children and young people has seen a real terms cut of £960m. At the same time, the Local Government Association (LGA) reports that local authorities are finding it increasingly challenging to provide support for vulnerable children and families, with stark funding gaps hanging over the head of many local authorities like the one in Oxfordshire. 

In October 2017, a survey conducted by the National Children’s Bureau showed that two-thirds of local councillors responsible for children’s services said their local authority didn’t have the means to provide universal services such as children’s centres and youth clubs. At the same time, more than four in ten reported not having enough funds to meet one or more of their statutory duties to children.

Benefit cuts, the result of an ideology that is hell-bent on attacking the most vulnerable, has massively increased demand for children’s services. The National Children’s Bureau describes it as an “unprecedented surge.”

2018 is set to become even harder for the poorest and most vulnerable children in our country and city to secure three meals a day and to have a warm, secure, and safe place to call home. This is one of the most disgraceful in an every growing list of shameful legacies this government will be judged and remembered for.

Shaista Aziz is a journalist, writer, and equalities campaigner. You can follow her campaign here: https://www.facebook.com/ShaistaLabour/

You can also find Shaista on Twitter: @Shaista Aziz

Running for City Council

Former Treasurer of OULC, Adam Ellison, explains what inspired him to become Labour candidate for Wolvercote in this May’s local elections. 

In 2017, students helped to transform politics. Labour’s ability to defy expectations in the General Election was down to a new brand of political leadership; a popular and exceptional manifesto; and, in no small part, the contribution of younger generations. Decades of political self-exile were ended as students and other young Brits hit both the streets and the ballot boxes in unforeseen numbers. Parliament was transformed and the British political landscape shifted significantly leftwards.

Earlier last year, Labour did not see the same success in local elections, with 7 councils and almost 400 councillors lost to the Tories. Labour’s position in local politics hasn’t been this weak in years. A new injection of youthful campaigners and voters, however, could reverse this ill fortune.

Local politics has never been a young person’s game. Dominated by retirees and middle-aged professionals, the contributions of young people are often eclipsed by those of older generations. In Oxford Labour, we’ve bucked the trend a few times: Councillor Dan Iley-Williamson is a DPhil student, whilst two members of OULC, Lucas Bertholdi-Saad and Louis McEvoy, ran for County Council in 2017. Despite this, the average councillor and local campaigner is still retired. It’s hard for democracy to be representative when those taking part are overwhelmingly from certain generations and certain backgrounds. Broadly, young people are left to languish in regards to local issues. Why? Because we aren’t voting and we aren’t running for election.

This year I’m bucking that trend by running for City Council in the currently Lib-Dem held ward of Wolvercote. The standard reaction I get on the doorstep is one of surprise, mild amusement or even anger that a student would dare run for the council. It’s either arrogance or a joke; I must be either trying to prove something or doing it for a lark. The reality, however, is that I’m running because we dearly need more youthful representatives in the local area. Oxford has a large population of young Brits, both students and young professionals. For the most part, they are utterly disconnected from local politics. They do not see it as something worth engaging in and, as a consequence, the council does not listen to their voices. This results in a vicious cycle of youth disengagement, something our generation can break. 

The benefits of such a break would be overwhelming both for Labour as a party and Britain as a whole. In party political terms, the wealth of untapped voters is colossal. In the general election, 68.7% of possible voters turned out, in contrast to the local elections five weeks prior where less than half that number did. If all 12 million people who voted Labour in the General Election voted in the locals, our vote share would increase six-fold. There are 5.6 million people in this country between the ages of 18 and 24, and statistically, around 3.5 million of those would vote Labour. If even half of those 3.5 million young Labour voters came to the polls in 2017, we could have overtaken the Tories. We have the capacity to absolutely dominate local politics if we try. The Labour coalition that spans communities, classes and generations can be recreated to achieve a newfound strength. Tory-dominated councils such as Oxfordshire cannot be defeated overnight, but by mobilising an untapped electoral resource we can start to chip away at their hegemony.

Secondly, engaging in local politics will benefit the country, and people of our generation. The more students and young professionals that vote, the more councils across the country listen to our voices. The more of us who run, the greater chance we have of achieving generational representation and fighting staggering housing prices and stagnant wages.

Councils are not as exciting as Westminster, that’s plain to see. There’s no sweeping foreign policy to shape, no Brexit to achieve or avoid (depending on your preference), no great industries to nationalise. What councils do, however, often has a far greater effect on our daily lives. Councils are responsible for supporting small businesses and providing job opportunities in the local area, for managing transport links and education, and deciding how and where housing is built. For decades, councils have prioritised older residents when making decisions on these issues, largely because the elderly are more likely to vote. We can put a stop to that by simply turning out. Hopefully, too, by becoming a part of local debates and winning places on local councils, we can bridge the growing gap between young and old in Britain.

A Labour PM in Number 10 is the most significant thing we can achieve, but that’s a war that might not be fought until 2019 or even 2022. This year and every year thereafter, the diligent, quiet, background men and women who shape our country will be selected. So don’t be idle when the dull elections roll around; when wheelie bins and roadworks fill more headlines than Russia or the NHS. Campaign in order to push the Tories out of their newfound dominance of English councils. Vote so we can have our collective voices truly heard by our representatives. And run so you can be part of a new generation of local politics that finally achieves a fairer, more equal society for Britain.

For the Many, Not the Marginalised and Vulnerable Few?

LGBTQIA+ Officer, Kieron Haley, argues that the Labour Party should be far more robust in dealing with internal abuse and members’ misbehaviour. 

The Labour Party has a problem. While Labour Party members are united in our belief in equality, tolerance and respect, we have consistently failed to uphold these values when the actions which threaten them have come from within. It is no secret that the Labour Party has a problem with anti-Semitism, but what is truly worrying is how far within the party this has spread and how little has been done to deal with it. In 2016, Ken Livingstone found himself knee-deep in controversy after appearing to equate Zionism with Nazism. Rather than being expelled from the party, however, he was only given a one-year suspension pending review. Not so long ago, OULC itself was at the centre of an anti-Semitic storm. Remarkably, the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) took no action thereafter, even after an internal party investigation found anti-Semitic behaviour had occurred. For what it’s worth, the club has subsequently made significant changes to the constitution which have prevented any anti-Semitic incident happening again.

Perhaps most disturbingly of all, it has now emerged that our leader, Jeremy Corbyn, was a member of several Facebook groups which regularly shared anti-Semitic abuse, yet there is not one recorded instance of him criticising any of the appalling comments made. In fact, on another Facebook post, he argued against the removal of an obviously anti-Semitic mural. It is utterly appalling that any member of our party, let alone our leader, should be able to act in such a way without facing any consequences. The impact these shockingly lacklustre responses have had on the well-being of some of our own members, and on the party’s reputation, cannot be underestimated or undone.

While anti-Semitism has recently received more attention than other kinds of offensive behaviour committed by our own members, it is far from the only example of bullying or bigotry to come from within our party; abuse in all its forms has too often gone unpunished or ignored when perpetrated by our own members. Earlier this year, Scottish Labour MP Hugh Gaffney gave a speech, to students, in which he used the overtly racist and homophobic terms ‘chinky’ and ‘bent’. Rather than being punished or suspended, Gaffney was made only to voluntarily attend ‘diversity training.’ If he were an elected official of any other party, we would undoubtedly, and quite rightly, be calling for far stronger repercussions in response to such appalling behaviour.

In yet another case in which one of our representatives have been caught making offensive remarks, Jared O’Mara was suspended from the party after it emerged that he made a series of blatantly sexist, homophobic and transphobic comments prior to becoming an MP. While suspension was certainly a step in the right direction, the question remains as to whether expulsion would have been more appropriate, with many people wondering how he came to be selected as a parliamentary candidate in the first place. This February, a further series of failures came to light when a dossier containing 43 anonymous stories of harassment and sexual assault against women at all levels of the Labour Party – including rape, groping, and a series of attempts to silence victims – was submitted to the Labour leadership by a movement called LabourToo. Why should we tolerate this sort of behaviour when it comes from within the party, when we would not tolerate it elsewhere? If we are to become the party of equality that we claim to be, then we must stop being hypocritical and begin holding ourselves to the same standard.

The fact that these incidents, which are far from the only examples of misbehaviour, took place so recently and over such a short period of time, serves only to highlight that this problem is not behind us. It would be far too easy to look at these issues and, as some members have done, attempt to silence critics due to fear of potentially negative electoral repercussions. This does nothing to alleviate the real worries felt by many not only in our party, but in wider society. As a collective, we need comprehensive policies covering bullying, sexual harassment, homophobia, and more. Rather than sending people to ‘diversity training’ only after they have been reported for abusive behaviour of offensive language, as in the case of Hugh Gaffney, we should make it compulsory for all party staff and elected representatives to undergo training to ensure that incidents like these do not happen again. We need to consider putting prospective parliamentary candidates through greater scrutiny, to ensure that in future we do not select candidates like Jared O’Mara who hold bigoted views or who have a record of acting abusively. As it stands, the NEC alone is responsible for arbitrating internal party disputes and, as an elected body, it is far too open to political persuasion and acts too much on the basis of internal party politics. We ought to set up a truly independent system for investigating complaints in order to put an end to any fear members may have and to encourage them to come forward and report the injustices they have faced.

I am far from the first person to have suggested changes like these to party policy. So far, however, while these accusations and incidents have been acknowledged, little has been done to prevent such injustices from happening again. It is time that changed. We need to make certain that the people in our party who have acted with impunity against others are dealt with and punished appropriately, and we need to take action to guarantee that the most marginalised people in our society – those whose gender, sexuality, race, religion, or disability makes them a target of abuse – have a place in the Labour Party. Above all, we need to ensure that the party we are all so proud to be members of puts into practice the progressive, liberal and tolerant values each of us holds so dear.