07/11/17 Yesterday’s Parliamentary debate on whether mental health education should be mandatory in schools

Yesterday I bowled down to the Houses of Parliament, along with a number of other mental health enthusiasts, to watch the debate on whether mental health education should be mandatory in schools. 

This debate was triggered by the fine folk of the Shaw Mind foundation, supported by Headspace, who obtained over 100 thousand signatures online, gently nudging the government in the right direction. 

My thoughts…

The debate was ably opened by the MP for Newcastle North, Catherine McKinnell, who effectively outlined that the current system wasn’t fit for purpose. 

I was delighted by…

There was a cross party group of MP’s who were all, essentially singing from the same hymn sheet, acknowledging that things had to change. 

As a group they were able to identify that this must be a whole school approach – that mental health education shouldn’t be confined to Personal, Social and Health education, and that it should be taught to all pupils, with peer support and mental health first aid being paramount. 

There was a running theme that there should be be mental health education on all teacher training courses. That way mental health, over the years, will become embedded in the system. 

There was an acknowledgement that schools should have firm links with CAMH’s (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services).

One of the MP’s put forward the case for preschool child and parental support, since he felt that many issues were often ingrained in those early years.

I was also pleased to see that the information gathered in the debate would be put together to form a green paper. In case you’re wondering…

Green Papers are consultation documents produced by the Government. The aim of this document is to allow people both inside and outside Parliament to give the department feedback on its policy or legislative proposals.’

So it shows that, as well as talking about it, the debate will lead to some actual action. 

Where I feel they stumbled though…

A great deal of focus was put on building resilience in children – concentrating on the ‘treatment’ of individuals. There was little acknowledgment of the stresses of the school and the wider world and how that can and does have an impact on our young folk. I’ll expand on this later. 

One MP seemed to imply that mindfulness was the panacea for all ails. I believe if this is the route the take the treatment will be, at best, ineffective, at worse, damaging to many young people for whom mindfulness may be the wrong treatment at the wrong time. 

The MP who, rightfully, identified that support for pre school children and their parents would be beneficial sadly didn’t mention the swingeing cuts to the Sure Start scheme, that did exactly that before 350 centres closed following a 47% cut to their budgets. 

The MP who seemed to be responsible for feeding back to the minister stated that before moving forward they required ‘robust’ data on the issues. 

One set of data, in my opinion, was a complete red herring – they seem to want specific information on how the cuts to school budgets have impacted on the mental health of pupils..

What I think should happen…

Please forgive me for blatantly stealing from Neil Thompson’s PCS model on prejudice and discrimination. 

The Goverment should adopt an altogether holistic approach to this issue…

On the PERSONAL level

Yes, let’s look at building resilience in younger folk – but we must tread VERY warily here. No level of resilience can help young folk deal with some of the terrible circumstances they find themselves in. 
Yes, mindfulness may be effective for some, but let’s not fall for a ‘one size fits all’ culture. 

There are a a wide range of mental health problems with a wide range of treatments to match. 

It’s essential that all teachers develop a level of confidence to work with pupils with/ without mental ill health, and that they learn to acknowledge that they already have skills in identifying psychological distress and supporting young people with it. 

On a CULTURAL level 

Schools must look beyond doing to and doing for young people with mental health problems. This, I believe, is just a start. 
Young people must be involved in the development of mental health policies within the school – for example…

Is what’s suggested by the school an effective way of supporting the young people? 

Is there a review system embedded in what the school is offering? 

Is the school focusing on the development of all pupils in the area of mental health? 

Does the system look at all aspects of school life and how that might impact on the individual? 

For example – how does it fit around the bullying policy? 

How does the school deal with exam stress? 

How does the school deal with teacher stress? 

Are there flexible mechanisms in place to liaise with families? (Bearing in mind, for some, home life may be the root of a person’s issues) 

How will the school work with CAMH’s? 

Will the school have a counsellor? Can they afford one? 

Who will provide what training? 

Personally, I think they should bring in people with a lived experience of mental ill health, who’ve already been through the system. 

It’s essential that mental health education is integrated in such a way that teachers don’t think, ‘Oh my God, not another bloody thing’

On a STRUCTURAL level

All of the above must be considered within the structure of the society in which the school sits.

The MP’s in the debate acknowledged that regular OFSTED assessments cause teachers significant stress that they will invariably pass onto the pupils. They spoke about it as if this was a fait accompli.

If this system has such a negative effect on everyone, it must be reviewed/ changed

The socialist in me wonders why, when we claim to live in a meritocracy, why is it ok to allocate (on average) a third of the funding for each state school pupil that their fee paying counterparts receive? 

We must deal with poverty more effectively. Children and young people often feel the bite of exclusion because of the punitive austerity regimes imposed by our government. Including the benefit cap on having more than 2 children (which, quite unfairly, came into being long after people had already had their children); the bedroom tax; and the ubiquitous Universal Credit which has a 42 day delay before any money is awarded – often resulting in long term unmanageable debt – in addition, if parents have a long term disability or mental health problem, their income has been cut by £40 per week. 

On the subject of disability and mental ill health, we must, once again, invest in services to ensure both parents and their children have timely access to services. 

We’ve already established that the return of investment is around £32 for every £1 invested. It really is crazy not to put that money into the system. 

One of the MP’s in the debate suggested that money had been allocated to mental health systems within the NHS – it’s just taking its time. I’m not entirely sure if that’s the case…

At any rate, any money allocated to mental health services MUST BE RING FENCED, otherwise it’ll just evaporate into other services. 

Whatever happened to the £Billion that Jeremy Hunt promised earlier this year? 

Concerned we don’t have money for this? Stamp down on tax evasion and avoidance. 

Step 1 in this process is to stop the proposed cut of 8000 employees at HMRC – the very people tasked with collecting taxes. 

Yes, I appreciate I’ve banged on, and that this may be flawed in a number of ways, but it would be lovely to hear your thoughts.

Walk a Mile

Chris

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#42Days A #HungerStrike in protest against #UniversalCredit Day 5

Today I’ve been looking at the more structural – political angle of Universal Credit, and why on Earth we’ve developed a system that takes from the poor whilst seemingly lining the pockets of the wealthy. 

Last year, the wealthiest 1000 people in the UK and their families increased their wealth by 14%. That’s an increase in their wealth of around £85 Billion in one year.

We also hear that tax avoidance and tax evasion costs the UK in excess of £100 billion a year. That’s a ball park figure, but it roughly equates to the total cost of the NHS.

A report by the BBC today shows us that the use of Tax havens has grown at an alarming rate.

And, somewhat bizarrely, we hear that Theresa May intends to cut 8000 staff from the HMRC – the very people tasked with collecting taxes.

And yet…and yet we still continue to punish our most vulnerable at a time when they’re most vulnerable. 

What goon thought it would be ok to have an inbuilt delay of 42 days between the application and the award of Universal Credit? 

42 days with no money? How is that supposed to provide a safety net? 

I’m trying to make sense of this. I know, from my campaign, Walk a Mile in my shoes, where I’ve walked, so far, around the edge of Scotland, Northwest England and North Wales, that people are fabulous. I left Edinburgh with no money, and a simple belief that people would look after me, a man with a severe and enduring mental health problem, on my endeavour. 

People have been fabulous – hospitable – interested and interesting – and generous, oh so generous. 

I haven’t had a single bad experience from folk during my walk. 

So people are 100% fabulous. I find it so hard to consolidate that with the minds that must have come up with such a deliberately punitive system. What can their rationale be? 

Are they so distanced from folk who aren’t exactly like them, that they feel it’s ok to deprive them of their basic needs? Do they see them – do they see us – as less than human? 

I don’t know the answer. I can’t, for the life of me fathom how we got to this point. 
If we think further down the line, we have the people who implement this hateful and harmful system – the employees at the Department of Work and Pensions.

I still stand by my belief that people are fabulous – so what makes them continue with this system? 

I guess at a basic level, they’re just doing their job. 

Their job that involves an inbuilt delay of 42 days for folk with no money. 

Add to this the Draconian system of benefit sanctioning where people have their benefits stopped for anything between 3 days and 3 years…imagine…

People who work at the department of work and pensions implement this cruel and unusual punishment on people who’ve committed the heinous crime of not completing a form correctly, or missing a meeting.

These are often people they already know have serious disabilities and/ or mental health problems. Instead of finding out, compassionately, what went wrong, these people are arbitrarily punished. 

Could you do that? What enables them to do that? 

It sounds like a lesson in conformity that Stanley Milgram would be proud of. 

Make no mistake, these people are meting out massive harm to benefit claimants, their families and, often, their children. 

Punishment without due legal process. People are being fined massive amounts without getting anywhere near a court. 

People with mental health problems are hugely over represented in the sanctioning system. Which makes the recent report by Mind, where they found that over 300 thousand people lost their jobs due to mental ill health last year. 

People like you and me, people who are one roll of the dice away from a mental health problem or a physical health crisis. 

And we hit them with services that have been pared back to the bone, and a 42 day delay before they get any money. 

We are a wealthy country. Let’s use some of that wealth to do the right thing.

I’ve said this many times – we live in a democracy. You can contact your local councillor and/ or MP to tell them enough’s enough. 

If you talk about this on Twitter, instagram or periscope, please use the hashtag #42Days

Walk a mile

Chris

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#42Days A #HungerStrke in protest against #UniversalCredit Day 4

Hi folks – instead of the usual blog today, I’m attaching my Video Blog for your perusal.

Comments welcome in the usual way. 

Walk a Mile

Chris

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03/11/17 #42Days A Hunger Strike Day 3

Just to recap – I’ve decided to go on hunger strike in protest against the continued roll out of Universal Credit in the UK. 

Conversations are beginning to happen…
The vast majority of folk who’ve been in touch with me over the past few days have been concerned, but very supportive 

A number of people are going through the shitstorm that is the Universal Credit application process have been contacted me, and they’ve been 100% supportive about what I’m doing. 

There are others though, who are less sure…

This message on Twitter, I think, encapsulates what a number of folk think. 

‘Agree with everything said about UC but cant support anyone choosing to starve & weaken themselves when there are people who have no choice When there are people actually starving because of UC it seems crass & indulgent to starve yourself as a gimmick however good the intention’

What do YOU think? 

A couple of thoughts came to me in response to this…

Bad things happen when good people do nothing.

I thought I could stand by and say, ‘Bloody Hell, this is terrible, isn’t it?’

Or, I could do SOMETHING! Granted, you may not think it’s the right thing, for me or the people going through this awful process. 

And Pastor Niemöller’s great poem 

‘First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–

Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out– 

Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out– 

Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.’

Bear in mind, this is a system deliberately set up to abuse people in this lovely country of ours. It is causing harm to hundreds of thousands of people – now – today. 

These people aren’t ‘others’, they’re you and me. 

This hunger strike isn’t about me – it’s about all of us standing together and saying, ‘This isn’t good enough!’

#42Days !

People, at their most vulnerable, are being kicked while they’re down – with a lack of services – no, or little immediate help for their mental health and/ or physical health problems – on top of that they’re slapped in the face with a, 

‘Sorry, mate, you have to wait 42 days for any money.’ 

This isn’t a safety net. People are being punished for being poor.

I read today that 32.8% of folk who are unemployed, find work within 5 weeks.

That’s 32.8% of unemployed folk who receive NOTHING from the state in their time of need. 

It’s time to move away from the endless anti-poor propaganda, from ‘Benefit Street’ to, ‘Can’t Pay? You shouldn’t have had it in the first place, you scrounging Bastard’ 
These people are US. They are you and me, and they are suffering today.

It’s great we’ve got food banks according to Jacob Rees Mogg, rather uplifting…but people have to be referred to them, and they can only receive support 3 times a year.

Benefit sanctions – stopping people’s benefits for anything from missing a meeting to making a mistake on a form…perceived or otherwise…for anything between 3 days and 3 years (!) are rife. 

In the recent roll out of Universal Credit in Leeds, 25% of ALL APPLICANTS were sanctioned!

People with mental health problems are hugely over represented in this group – in 2015, nearly 30 thousand people with mental health problems had their benefits sanctioned. 

Last year, according to a recent report by Mind, 300 thousand people lost their jobs because of mental ill health.

That’s 300 thousand folk with mental health problems, in a climate where services have been cut to the bone, who have to wait for 42 days for any money.

You can change this. You can speak with your local councillor or your MP.

The government has just lost 2 debates on Universal Credit – I believe, with your help, we can tip the balance and get them to rethink the roll out – and while their at it, put an end to their Draconian system of sanctions. 

Surely the limited amount people receive in benefits is sanction enough? 

Regarding the Hunger Strike – I feel I’m on a bit of a tightrope – I want to tell worried friends this is going well, with little impact – at the same time acknowledging the lack of food is shite. 

Apparently on day 3, I go into ketosis, where my body finally understands that nothing is coming in through my mouth and starts devouring itself. 

But this isn’t about me – this campaign is meant as a vehicle to raise awareness. 

I’d like to think I’m giving a voice to those thousands of folk who don’t have a voice – who are suffering the state sponsored shame for the crime of being unemployed – people who have to choose between eating or heating, feeding themselves or their children. 

Make no mistake, this is poverty, and it’s increasing across the country. 

More tomorrow 

Walk a Mile

Chris

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02/11/17 #42Days A Hunger Strike Day 2

Just to recap – I’ve decided to go on hunger strike in protest against the continued roll out of Universal Credit in the UK. 

This punitive system has a built in delay of 42 days before people get any money at all. 
Imagine, you’ve just lost your job, you may have a physical disability – you may have a mental health problem – if so, you’ll have already encountered the pared back to the bone, lack of services for your condition. So to be smacked between the eyes with the 6 weeks with no money scenario is nothing short of abuse. 

Today has been relatively uneventful – I’ve tried my hand at making videos on YouTube, Facebook and Periscope to give folk a different way to follow this particular adventure. 

I haven’t felt terribly hungry – but my mouth has felt a tad scuzzy. I’m reliably informed that tomorrow my body will go into ketosis – a system where it realises that there’s no food forthcoming from the usual channels, and will start tucking into my fat stores, of which I have plenty. 

My good friend, Derek, suggested that I’ve been building up to this for years. Remind me to smack him in the teeth next time I see him. 

Today I was told about the horrific story of a woman with 4 children who’d had her benefits stopped for a gut wrenching 12 weeks! Take some time to digest that…

12 weeks without money with 4 children. 

She’d already been hit by the punitive, 2 children only, benefit cap – that was conveniently put in place long after she’d had her children.

She tells me without friends and family, she doesn’t know what she’d have done.
It put me in mind of the family, mentioned in the last Universal Credit debate in the Commons, who’d had their children put into care because they didn’t have any money.

The bizarre thing is that putting their 2 children into care cost the state £900 per week, the cost of their benefits, I’m guessing, would be significantly less. 

This system is punitive – nothing more, nothing less. 

Universal Credit is wobbling on a precipice – the government have lost 2 recent debates on it’s continued roll out – and yet they’re continuing with it’s implementation. 

I don’t want you to sign a petition. I want YOU to do something. 

Contact your MP, you can write, email, phone, meet them in their surgery and demand that they halt the roll out of Universal Credit until it is fit for purpose. 
Speak to your local councillor – let them know what you think. 

I’ve heard rumblings that their looking at reducing the delay to 28 days at the next budget…

Great – 28 days with no money! All my above concerns still apply. 

Let’s speak more tomorrow. 

Spread the word.

Walk a mile 

Chris

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01/11/17 #42 days – day 1

Well the first day of the campaign has gone rather well, with lots of folk making supportive, if at times, concerned rumbles.

I spoke with a woman in Norway who is currently feeling the wrath of that country’s austerity cuts.

They too have chosen a 42 day delay before people are paid any benefits (coincidence? I wonder)

Regarding hunger pangs and the like, there’s really been nothing to report – it reminds me a little of when I was on the coastal walk, in the middle of nowhere – if I don’t have any expectation of food, then my body doesn’t give me too much of a hard time. 

That said, the little social bits of the day – for example, there’s a bit of a vacuum left where I normally deliver coffee in bed to the lovely Ella in our ‘Mr & Mrs’ mugs. 

Western world problems, eh? 

We popped into the bank, and we were delighted at the supportive noises the staff there made regarding the whole mental health gig – including #42Days

That said, I did feel a bit of a fraud – I’ve only missed a couple of meals so far – and that certainly doesn’t feel like any kind of hardship.

It put me in mind of the earlier stages of the walk, when I lumbered into John O’Groats to the applause of the people there, whilst trying to explain I wasn’t even one fifth into that particular endeavour.

I’ve decided that a daily video log, to complement the written blogs, starting on 02/11/17, would be just the thing to keep the conversation going. 

As many of my lovely friends know, I’m every bit as driven to do see this through as I am the sacred ramble.

People have reached out in an array of fabulous ways, making this adventure much easier. 

People have asked, ‘What do you want me to do?’

‘How can I help?’ 

And, ‘Fucking Hell, Chris! Why can’t you sign a petition like everyone else?’ 

I’m sure we’ll develop some cunning plans over the next few weeks. 

I know there are some of you lovely folk who are finding it a little difficult to, er, engage with this.

I can only guess what might be going through your mind – anything from, ‘What the fuck’s he doing now?’ to, ‘Should we be encouraging him?’ to, ‘By supporting him, don’t want to be responsible for him harming himself…or others for that matter,’

This is going to be hard. I won’t pretend otherwise. I may well dissociate over the next few weeks – to be frank, it’s highly likely, since, by and large, I lose about a third of my life to it. That will be difficult for the lovely folk around me – especially the lovely Ella.

All I can say, is love lots, and reach out. 

I have to do this. Something truly awful is happening in our lovely country – the innocuously named Universal Credit is destroying people’s lives. We’ve seen in parliament that the will of MP’s is beginning to lean our way.

Share this. Talk about it with your friends, family and colleagues. 

Lobby your MP. If you can, go and see them.
If you agree with me, tell them that #42Days is far too long to wait for benefits to be paid.

Tell them that now is the time to stop the Draconian system of benefits sanctions – that the less than generous benefits rates are surely sanction enough.

Remind them that a mere 0.7% of disability benefits are claimed fraudulently – and that benefits in the UK are underclaimed probably because of the climate of stigma peddled by our government and media. 

Draw their attention to the fact that the most disabled folk – the very folk they claim to be supporting most – will be £40 a week worse off because a series of baffling smoke and mirrors changes. 

Most of all – demand that they stop the roll out of this horribly flawed benefit until it’s properly reviewed and made fit for purpose. 

Don’t put it off.

That time is now

Walk a Mile

Chris 

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31/10/17 #42Days A Hunger Strike

Tomorrow, on the first of November, I’ll be going on hunger strike for 42 days. 

I’d really rather not be doing this, but it’s my aim over those 6 weeks to help me focus on the plight of the hundreds of thousands of people who will be claiming Universal Credit. 

This system that we’re told is being established to simplify the benefits system, currently has an inbuilt 42 day delay before any benefit is paid. 

42 days with no money when your only crime has been losing your job. 

We are arbitrarily punishing the most vulnerable people in society under the guise of austerity, under the illusion that this cruel to be kind, tough love approach will demonstrate that work pays. 

If you do some research on this, you’ll see that the Government says that people can take out crisis loans. These are loans that people have to pay back from their meagre benefits once they’re awarded. 

Many folk find themselves falling into the loving arms of loan sharks – legal or otherwise – with interest rates over 1000%

What would YOU do? 

Over the past couple of decades, we’ve been drip fed the belief that these benefit scroungers aren’t like you. They’re flawed, often fraudsters, bone idle parasites. 

They’re not like you. 

Tragically though, these people ARE you. 

Last year, 300 thousand people lost their jobs because of mental ill health. 

That’s 300 thousand people, like you, like me, who are expected to wait for 6 weeks for any money. 

These same people, no doubt, will have been told services are stretched – that they’ll have to wait at times over a year for a treatment that may be right for them – but that so often isn’t the right fit. 

I only mention mental ill health because Mind recently published a paper where they’d collated that information. I have no doubt the same will apply for people with physical illness. 

Over the next few weeks, you’ll read how the government will generously cut the cost of the 55p a minute Universal Credit Helpline by the end of the year – to what, I can only speculate. 

We’re told that folk can ask to be called back – I suggest you try it -waiting times of 20 minutes before you get to speak to anyone are not uncommon. 

That’s over £10 from people who don’t have any money – for whom every penny counts. 
You could buy into the rhetoric that it’s wonderful that such need has spawned the growth of benevolent charities – food banks – that can provide people with help up to 3 times a year – giving us that Jacob Rees Mogg ‘Rather Uplifting’ feeling…

Or you could call it out for what it is, a system that is designed to make people suffer.

This is not a failing system. This is a system that’s doing exactly what it has been set up to do. 

If you throw benefit sanctions into the equation, then you’ll realise that the system is anything but benevolent. 

Between 2011 and 2015 this draconian regime increased the sanctions meted out on people with mental health problems by 668%. 

This meant that nearly 20 thousand people with mental health problems had their benefits stopped for anything up to 3 years.
In the typical walk a mile way, I don’t want to be doing this alone. I’ll aim to talk to you, the people in the world of the social media, every day. I really want you to be part of this. 

I realise I’m doing this from a position of privilege – I’m choosing to do this – although I have a severe and enduring mental health problem, I’m safe, cared for and loved. I can stop doing this whenever I want. 

If you want to join me on any part of this fast – please do – tell me, if anything, what this means to you. If you’re in the position where you’ve had to apply for Universal Credit – please share your experience, anonymously if that works for you, using the hashtag 

#42Days

If you know anyone in the media, social or otherwise, get them involved. 

Tell your MP – tell anyone – that you, like me, think enough is enough. 

Until tomorrow then.

Walk a Mile

Chris

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