There has been a mixed reaction to how the UK Government’s Spending Review will affect mental health service users in Wales.
Although the full impact of the expenditure plans outlined by Chancellor George Osborne on Wednesday will not be fully known in Wales until the Welsh Assembly Government announces its draft budget on November 17th , this week’s announcement did shed some light on issues which are not devolved to Wales, such as criminal justice and welfare benefits.
For analysis on the Spending Review we recommend you visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website: http://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/press_20101020 and http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/special_reports/spending_review/
In terms of criminal justice Paul McKeever, Chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, said that although the cuts were less than feared no one could pretend the future would not be “extremely challenging”.
He said: “Whilst appreciating the Government’s view that we should purely fight crime, the reality is that police officers deal with a multitude of tasks every day that fall outside of this remit, including the care and welfare of vulnerable citizens in society.
“These cuts could mean that areas not covered by other agencies, such as dealing with people on the streets with mental illness, drug and alcohol issues and missing person enquiries, are the ones that suffer.”
During his speech on Wednesday the Chancellor stated that a Green Paper will set out proposals to reform sentencing, “to intervene earlier to give treatment to mentally ill offenders and use voluntary and private providers to reduce reoffending.”
Responding to this Penny Cram, Criminal Justice Lead Officer at the Welsh mental health charity Hafal, said: “Early intervention is key to helping someone with a serious mental illness so we welcome the Chancellor’s announcement. As well as giving people a strong chance of recovery diverting people from the criminal justice system into mental health services can also result in financial savings across the public sector too so this is a positive step.
“Nobody with a serious mental illness should be in a police or prison cell.”
While views on Mr Osborne’s criminal justice expenditure plans were mixed, opinions on welfare benefit cuts were more consistent.
Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health Joint Chief Executive Sean Duggan said his organisation was concerned that reductions in welfare benefit spending will have a damaging effect on large numbers of people with mental ill health.
He said: “Weaknesses in the way disability is assessed need to be remedied urgently and effective support is vital to ensure that more people with mental health problems get the chance they deserve to fulfil their potential through employment.”
Commenting on the implications of the UK government’s policies for people with mental ill health Hafal Chief Executive Bill Walden-Jones said: “For most people with a serious mental illness the key concern at the moment must be changes to the benefits system. Even before the Spending Review Hafal has had contact with many individuals who have fallen foul of the substantial changes both to the rules and practice relating to Employment Support Allowance.
“The announcements this week, not least the restrictions on housing benefits for people under 35, add to an anxiety that the principle of assuring a reasonable standard of living for all people with a serious mental illness may be under threat. However, the main issues seem to me still to lie in the rules, interpretation of the system and the jury is still out on whether Iain Duncan Smith can find an approach which genuinely still provides for people with serious mental illness while meeting his ambitions both for cost-cutting and incentives to get people into work.
“I’m not optimistic about this. The trouble is that there is a consensus about wanting rules which will not victimise people with a serious mental illness but nobody has found a way to ensure that the proper concern to expose inappropriate claims of disability and need does not lead to injustice and oppression.
“Hafal will certainly take up the challenge and we are already engaging with DWP to try to establish good practice in reviewing cases. We have also assisted hundreds of our clients this summer through our “Ease the Squeeze” campaign which included advice on ESA.”
Following the Spending Review the Welsh Assembly Government will finalise its own draft budget which will be published on November 17th. The final budget will be presented to the National Assembly for Wales in early February 2011.
To read the full text of the Chancellor’s Spending Review please visit: http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/spend_sr2010_speech.htm
To read more on the Spending Review from Bill Walden-Jones, including how service users can take steps to gain some control over their situation with regard to benefits please visit Bill’s Blog: http://billwaldenjones.blogspot.com/2010/10/sound-advice.html
For information on Hafal please visit: www.hafal.org