An important Backbench Business debate took place in the House of Commons on 13 June 2012, as MPs gathered to discuss issues surrounding mental health. It had been four years since Parliament had debated these issues on the floor of the main chamber in the House of Commons.
In atmosphere of cross party co-operation, Kevan Jones attended and spoke in the debate. He was keen to divulge the experience of some of his constituents in dealing with the Work Capability Assessments (WCA), the tests used to examine whether people are fit to work or not. Kevan was also able to speak with the experience of having been Minister for Veterans in the previous Government.
One in four people in the UK will at some stage in their lives suffer from a mental health problem, ranging from stress, anxiety and depression to devastating psychotic conditions.
24% of former armed forces personnel experience mental health issues after service. According to the World Health Organisation it is thought that within 20 years more people will be affected by depression than any other health problem.
Kevan praised the work of the voluntary sector and mental health charities, which do an excellent job not only in raising awareness of mental health issues among the general public, government authorities and employers, but in delivering care and treatment at a local level too.
Funding to these charities is currently under threat from cuts to local authorities as well as from private donations and award making bodies.
Kevan spent most of his time, however, debating whether ATOS, the body used by the Department for Work and Pensions to assess whether people qualify for Employment Support Allowance (ESA), goes about its work in the correct manner.
Kevan went on to argue that, whilst working is generally good for the mental health of the majority of people, there are some who are unable to work. The work of ATOS must differentiate between people who are physically disabled and people who have mental issues.
ATOS assessments frequently cause a great deal of stress and anxiety to people who have experienced mental health issues. Whether the person is deemed ‘fit to work’ or not, the assessment and potential subsequent appeal tribunal can often lead to a serious deterioration of condition.
Kevan also went on to discuss his own experiences with mental health, becoming the first sitting MP to discuss these issues on a personal level. He then went on to explore ways to diminish the stigma around these matters and the particular problems faced by public figures—like MPs—in grappling with this.
The full text of Kevan’s speech, and all the other contributions to the debate, can be found at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmhansrd/cm120614/debtext/120614-0002.htm