Amongst my left-leaning friends, a collective sigh of despair was heaved when the election results became apparent a few weeks ago. Despair and fear, because if a Conservative government mitigated by the Lib Dems had been bad enough for social cohesion and public services, how much worse would an unmitigated one be? Could we expect increasing austerity to result in the complete loss of any desks for us to work from at all? (See previous posts for running theme of lack of desks…) Well, having recently told everyone social work was about relentless optimism, I now propose to apply some to certain points in the Tory manifesto in the hopes of identifying any positives that I can about how they might impact mental health social work.
The main aim and selling point for the Conservatives appears to have been their plan to eliminate the deficit and grow the economy. So, although they didn’t manage to do so during the last 5 years, and although Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz believes that austerity is not the way out of recession, lets assume they do manage to grow the economy. This can only be good news, as it would mean we had enough money in the pot to pay for better services right? It might mean more people being richer as well, which you might assume meant they would have better mental health. However although poverty is bad for Mental Health in many ways, I have certainly come across some rich people in desperate poor health, both of mood and of psychosis. It is also generally accepted that wealth doesn’t guarantee happiness, whereas poverty and inequality definitely contribute to poorer mental health. Therefore more equality would do more for the country’s mental health than if the rich got richer and the poor poorer. Not a promising start to my optimistic take.
Other pledges included an extra £8 billion that Cameron promised for the NHS, including a vaguely worded pledge to improve access to mental health treatments. Although this falls far short of the $30-54 billion that experts estimate is needed, it’s better than nothing, right? We wait with bated breath to see how this will be achieved. As for the Right to Buy: I can’t see this helping the housing crisis at all, or those unable to afford to buy, but I guess it will benefit those rich enough to consider buying. There is also mention of legislation to keep people working 30 hours on minimum wage out of tax. Yes, this may help some people, but why not bring in a more sensible minimum wage instead? Again with the promised free childcare for working parents of 3&4-year-olds, I am left asking why not go a bit further and help those who want to get back to work earlier on? There is also the promise of seven-day access to GPs – who have already said they are not sure this is do-able. It will depend on yet more funding to make it viable. Maybe doctors’ salaries will have be brought more in line with other health care professionals (who already work weekends) to allow for this??? The Tories also talked about better integration between health and social care – yes please! We know from many a serious case review that improved communication between the two is crucial. Yet again I wonder where the funding for the above will come from, apart from the promised economic growth – for this to impact on services surely the government would have to tax the people getting rich and promise to spend the money on others? Otherwise you’re relying on the trickle-down effect, generally acknowledged not to trickle down as much as some like to claim. Which is where I come to the £12bn promised in welfare savings. I can’t think of an optimistic spin on that one at all, sorry.
And yes I know there are other policies I can hardly bear to mention (Human Rights Act, European Union membership) In some cases I may have to rely on denial to maintain my optimistic outlook, which isn’t exactly a great approach to maintaining my own mental health. But hey, at least in another 5 years we have another chance to change our minds about who governs us! Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you can awaken and start to change yourself. And sometimes the only optimism one can find is in the truism that all things come to an end… eventually.