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BASW: Mental health social workers must be central to policy change

In response to the Prime Minister’s ‘shared society’ speech to the Charity Commission, in which Theresa May pledged to tackle the “burning injustice of mental health and inadequate treatment”, BASW Chief Executive Dr Ruth Allen says greater recognition is needed both of the specific mental health social worker role and the wider role played by social work in mental health with families, children and older people. Dr Allen said: “In the context of an interesting speech about the role of government in promoting the bonds of citizenship and ‘shared society’, the Prime Minister has placed a welcome focus on the stigma, disadvantage and underinvestment in mental health as a social injustice and she is right to say mental health is everyone’s concern. She is also right to start with a focus on children and young people where we know mental health support is woefully inadequate, and where good intervention and support can save longstanding distress for individuals and their families.

“It is refreshing to see an acknowledgment from Government that the third sector has played a vital role in ‘standing up’ for people with mental ill health but the integral role social workers play in defending people’s rights must also be acknowledged. Mental health social workers play a central part in people’s lives and are at the heart of service delivery. It is good to see mental health social work being given a specific mention in the reference to the Think Ahead specialist qualifying training scheme. I want to see the wider role of social work in mental health with families, children and older people given greater recognition too - especially if we are to create the more bonded and inclusive society that the Prime Minister says she values.

“While welcoming many of the Prime Minister’s sentiments about mental health, what the speech also does not do is show real recognition of the relationship between worsening mental health of children and adults, and longstanding government economic, social and health policies. Perhaps this speech marks a change, but for the moment, the impact of austerity economics - for instance, on disabled people, people needing a secure place to live or young people seeking a decent first job – continues to be a major mental health stressor. And calls for greater ‘resilience’ and earlier intervention are not going to be enough to turn this tide of rising referrals and crises.

“Mental health detentions are going up while bed availability and the funding base for reliable community support and alternatives to admission have been heavily reduced. Yes, some schemes for children and young people, for instance, are being funded and there may be more pressure on commissioners and Trusts to use allocated mental health money for that purpose, but the funding base is being pared back, and the severe reductions in social care and school funding have direct impact impact on mental health needs and the ability of the NHS to respond.

“BASW published the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Social Work report on the inquiry into adult mental health services in September 2016 and we found an underfunded and fragmented system that is suffering from a lack of real national planning for healthcare and sometimes quixotic commissioning decisions.  The Prime Minister’s words today are welcome – but what needs to follow is recognition that we need not only an effective industrial strategy for the UK but an effective social, education and health strategy that rights the wrongs of recent governments if we are to see the tide turning - not only in our response to mental health needs but also in those social determinants that are increasing distress and demand on services.

“If the PM’s goal is one shared society, the interrelationships between its constituent parts must be reflected in diverse policy. For instance, the forthcoming Housing White Paper must include reference to the link between mental health and housing. The Green Paper on Children and Young People’s Mental Health must also be linked to the reforms proposed in the Children and Social Work Bill if changes are to be cohesive. The social work profession is well placed to support the detail and BASW looks forward to working with the Care Quality Commission and Ofsted on the thematic review of services for children and young people across the country.”

Read the APPG on Social Work report on the inquiry into adult mental health services in England HERE