Letter: Ask our MP to attend the Westminster Hall debate on World Mental Health Day

Date published: 09 October 2017

Dear Editor,

Tuesday 10 October is World Mental Health Day. This year it coincides with an important Westminster Hall debate at 4pm led by Peter Aldous MP on the future funding of supported housing. 

Sustainable funding of supported housing for people with severe mental illness is an essential lifeline.

In Rochdale we have extremely high levels of mental health need, as exclusively covered by Rochdale Online back in February of this year latest analysis by the University of East London showed between October 2015 and September 2016 the average number of prescriptions for schizophrenia alone in Rochdale was 34 per 1,000 people, the third highest in the country.

The Public Health Profile points out that:

'The health of people in Rochdale is generally worse than the England average. Deprivation is higher than average and about 26.7% (11,900) children live in poverty. Life expectancy for both men and women is lower than the England average. Life expectancy is 9.7 years lower for men and 7.9 years lower for women in the most deprived areas of Rochdale than in the least deprived areas.'

We should also bear in mind that in the past mental health and wellbeing in Rochdale has declined rather than improved: 'In 2009 and 2013, the North West Public Health Observatory (NWPHO) was commissioned to undertake a survey to measure levels of wellbeing across the North West. Between 2009 and 2013 the wellbeing score for Rochdale declined from 28.4 to 26.3. The North West average for both surveys was 27.7.'

Additionally as Rochdale Borough Mental Health and Wellbeing Commissioning Strategy 2014-2017 Developed in Partnership with Heywood, Middleton and Rochdale Clinical Commissioning Group & Rochdale Borough Council, pointed out in November 2014:

'The most deprived wards in the borough have an above average population below the age of 15. These areas also correlate with the wards which have a high level of Adult Mental Health prevalence. Not only does this indicate that these children will experience the impact of parental mental ill health, but it also indicates that these areas will continue to see a high level of Mental Health need as this cohort of children reach adulthood. This suggests that more targeted early interventions will be required in these areas to address the future risk.'

Children and young people represent 21.1% of the population, they represent 16% of admissions for self harm.

This is evidently no time to be complacent when it comes to mental health & wellbeing locally.

World Mental Health Day is a day for global mental health education, awareness and advocacy so accordingly along with other local people I am campaigning alongside Rethink Mental Illness to call on the Government to abandon plans to cap Housing Benefit at the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rate for those living in supported housing.

I believe we must remove the threat of a blanket, one size fits all cap for people living in supported housing. As the Government is yet to make a final announcement regarding its proposals, next week’s debate presents a unique opportunity for you to encourage the Government to reconsider its plans.

The LHA rate is an inappropriate starting point for supported housing. It is based on the lowest private sector rents and does not reflect the actual costs of supported housing. Ultimately, the proposed system is dependent upon a local ‘top-up’ fund which may not be adequate and has no guarantee of a long-term ring fence. This creates uncertainty both for individuals and for those providing or commissioning housing services.

The supply of supported housing is already limited and vulnerable to local funding cuts. The National Housing Federation (NHF) has warned of an existing gap of over 16,000 supported housing places in 2015/16 and states that with increasing demand and reducing supply, the gap will inevitably grow. This uncertainty has already resulted in housing associations cutting plans to build homes for vulnerable, elderly or disabled residents by 85%.

Supported housing is vital for people living with severe mental illness. It helps thousands of people begin the process of recovery and assists them in living an independent and full life. The Government’s proposals mean that many people could face the frightening prospect of not being able to afford or access the housing they need.

I am particularly concerned that the uncertainty created by a cap on Housing Benefit will create instability and anxiety, which could worsen existing mental health problems for people living in supported housing.

A safe and supportive home means everything.

Concerned readers of Rochdale Online can lobby their Member of Parliament to attend the Westminster debate on World Mental Health Day, to protect the lifeline for tens of thousands of people with severe mental illness.


Andrew Wastling

The views expressed are those of the author of the letter and not those of Rochdale Online.

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