Bella Wallersteiner: As a parliamentary staffer, I’m appalled by the double standards on who has to wear a mask

25 Jul

Bella Wallersteiner works as Senior Parliamentary Assistant for a Conservative MP.

After England moved to step four of the Government’s roadmap for lifting Covid restrictions, Lindsay Hoyle, the Speaker of the House of Commons, confirmed that face masks were no longer mandatory for Members of Parliament from July 19. Instead, MPs are being “encouraged” to wear face coverings while moving around the wider Parliamentary estate.

Unfortunately, the same discretionary freedom has not been afforded to parliamentary staff for whom mask-wearing remains compulsory. Unions have been quick to point out the unfair and divisive nature of one set of rules for MPs and another set of rules for people working in the engine room of our legislature.

Before the summer recess, a significant number of Conservative MPs celebrated “Freedom Day” by ditching face masks in the House of Commons for the final Prime Minister’s Questions. And who can blame them? Many of us are desperate to say good-riddance to masks, tear down the bossy and infantilising signs which remind us to practice good hygiene (like washing our hands), remove the pointless one-way systems (we all know how to maintain social distance after 16 months of practice) and dismantle the entire edifice which has given birth to a micro-industry of excuses for disruption “due to Covid”.

And, yes, I am aware that we have all been through a lot since the pandemic started, and need to respect personal choices as not everyone is ready to return to “normal”. If wearing a mask makes some people feel safer, then that is their right and I would not belittle “brainwashed sheeple” as some freedom crusaders have done.

My concern is that once again our legislators seem to think that it is acceptable to have one rule them, another for Parliamentary staffers who must continue to wear face coverings. Until now, the decision to wear a face covering has been a legal requirement, not a matter of personal choice.

All this changed when the Prime Minister told the public that they are no longer legally required to wear masks from July 19 (in spite of Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Office for England, advising that masks should be worn as a “common courtesy”). A confusing miasma of different rules in different settings means that transport operators and some shops have decided to make face coverings mandatory which could bring them into conflict with equality legislation.

The Government has succeeded in making the face covering a daily battle ground between libertarians and those who believe that it is irresponsible to dispense with all protection at a time when nearly 50,000 people a day are testing positive for Coronavirus.

I have stopped wearing my mask in virtually every setting – but as a parliamentary staffer I will be required to carry on wearing one at work. This is just another example of how Covid “guidance” has broken down and become illogical. The Government needs to make up its mind – wearing a face mask should be either mandatory or discretionary, it cannot be both.

I drew attention to this contradiction on social media and Steve Baker, MP for High Wycombe, wrote to the Speaker about this blatant discrepancy in the rules. The Speaker confirmed the House of Commons’ position which is that the Speaker has “no power to prevent democratically elected members from coming on to the estate or in to the chamber when the House is sitting. As such, there is no meaningful way to enforce a requirement on members to wear a face covering.” Sadly, he would not be drawn on the issue of Parliamentary staff being required to wear face coverings at work. In solidarity with staffers, Baker will continue to wear a face mask around Parliament.

The next battleground in the fight for freedom and equality will be the so-called “vaccine passports” for domestic events. The Speaker has rejected the use of Covid passports for MPs around Parliament, but has made no mention of staffers. Vaccination passports will discriminate against people based on decisions they have freely made and threatens the foundations of our liberal society. I have been vaccinated against Covid-19, a personal choice, but I would never stigmatise anyone who is unable to be vaccinated to or chooses not to be vaccinated.

But rules are there to be interpreted in subjective ways as we saw when foreign VIPs were exempted from the burden of travel quarantine to attend the Euro 2020 finals. Who can forget the scenes from the G7 gathering in Cornwall where any pretence of following social distancing rules were dropped quicker than you can say “Build Back Better”.

Fortunately, there are MPs willing to stand up to this discrimination and unfairness. Rumours of a vaccine passport being a condition of entry for the annual Conservative Party Conference in Manchester in October have led to a number of Conservative MPs saying they will boycott the event. I have already confirmed publicly I will not attend conference if such discriminatory measures are in place.

The Government so far has presented the pandemic as an “all in it together” chapter of national solidarity. However, this has led to people being branded selfish for visiting family members living overseas or simply going abroad with their families for a summer break after 16 months of self-incarceration. This sort of intolerance is harming the UK’s reputation for nurturing a culture of individualism and self-regulation.

Ministers have enjoyed wide public support even from those horrified by a level of authoritarianism which has not been seen in this country since the time of Oliver Cromwell. It has been borne on the belief that it would be temporary and, once the vaccines were rolled out, dispensed with forever.

But now an “us vs them” dynamic has emerged which is threatening to upset public trust and Parliament is just a microcosm of this phenomenon.

Credibility and honesty will be critical in completing the immense effort we have all undertaken in response to this crisis. Dominic Cummings has shown us what happens to a government’s health message when those responsible for it fail to adhere to their own rules. We have stopped people from leaving their homes and seeing their dying loved ones in the name of being “all in this together”. The Government must restore confidence by pressing ahead with releasing all lockdown restrictions for everyone.

Freedom Day was supposed to be the moment when the country would be liberated from the tyranny of Covid. Instead, we are in danger of entering a two-tiered Orwellian society where “all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”

Pamela Hall: Why I’m seeking election as Chairman of the National Conservative Convention

24 Jul

Pamela Hall OBE is a former President and Vice President of the National Conservative Convention and now Candidate for Chairman. She is currently President of the North West Conservative Women’s Organisation (CWO).

For Conservatives to win elections right across the country we need a strong, active, and vibrant voluntary party with the right professional support from CCHQ. I’m seeking election as Chairman of the National Conservative Convention, which is the link between being the voice of the voluntary members, to the party leadership and CCHQ.

Voting opened earlier this week and I’ve been asked a lot – what does the National Convention do?

There are five volunteers elected as officers of the National Convention and these become members of the party board. The officers represent associations and their members on committees such as membership, finances, candidates, disciplinary procedures and much more.

They also take responsibility for different regions and, having been elected to roles for three years, I have travelled the UK attending conferences, beach cleans, campaign days, quiz nights other events to meet volunteers and area and regional teams to listen and understand their different needs. “Zooming” around the UK over the past year made it even easier to maintain those vital links, though nothing beats meeting together in person.

The Convention roles shape how the voluntary party works and over recent years have brought about the revival of CPF led by Andrew Sharpe. I further developed the Association Incentive Scheme as a way of connecting volunteers with CCHQ, sharing ideas and support, as well as valued rewards and competition. The Convention officers also host events, training webinars and most importantly make sure the voluntary party’s needs, concerns and frustrations are voiced and heard within CCHQ and our party’s leadership.

The electorate for the National Convention is All Association Chairmen, Area and Regional Chairman and the CWO National and Regional Officers.

I’ve also been asked – what’s the main issue in this election?

The only way to completely ensure we build back better is to win the next general election and all other local elections before then. If elected I will work with CCHQ and our members to support the right campaigning resources in the right places, across the UK – I have already made inroads previously working closely with chairmen and area teams when, as vice president, we rolled out the original Campaign Manager programme in 2017. There is no doubt we need more resources everywhere, and that is my priority.

And then the next question – what will you do?

It’s vital we bring more people in the party together, members must feel included, involved and appreciated and have opportunities to use their skills – as a voluntary organisation we need them all alongside the following:

  • The right policies from Government which align to our values and our manifesto, ensuring the CPF is at the heart of future policy making.
  • The right support from CCHQ for campaigning – against any opposition, right across the country, involving and including local councillors, candidates and associations as we develop messaging and policies.
  • More training for chairmen and more teams to share ideas, tips and successes.
  • Continuous support for the CWO, YCs and CPF representation in all our association, area and regional officer teams.

I understand our party’s structures, with three year’s experience on the National Convention. Having successfully served our party over the past 25 years, from YC chairman, association, area and regional officer to councillor and parliamentary candidate, I know our volunteers, and how to get things done.

I’m standing as it’s an opportunity to do the right thing for the voluntary party – and Convention roles are absolutely the best roles in the politics! The vice president roles weren’t contested at all this year and that needs to change in the future – everyone needs to know about all the different opportunities to get involved in politics at all levels.

I have spoken at many CWO and Association Scheme events, encouraging others to get involved, developing mentoring schemes around the country, and I would do much more of this to support more women, more young people, and everyone to look for opportunities in our party.

If elected, I and the other board members along with the regional and area teams need to be much more visible and accessible to associations. Future Convention elections need a level playing field for people to stand on. These roles take a lot of time, shoe leather and petrol to do well, but it’s fabulous to meet so many other people passionate about politics and help them find roles to thrive and enjoy.

Our party must do more to connect with all members and all voters if we are to continue to win and get our values and messages across all over the UK. If you have a vote, please vote for me to improve those connections, enable more resources in the right places, so we can all have opportunities to win together.

Please contact me to discuss further or for more information: pamelahall.uk

Will Dido Harding have her Kate Bingham moment?

24 Jul

Over the last couple of weeks there has been an enormous uproar over what has been called the “pingdemic”. In short, the number of people who are now told to isolate, having received a notification by the NHS Test and Trace app. Over 600,000 people in England have been asked to self-isolate in the week to July 14.

Clearly the programme is having a very disruptive effect on multiple industries. According to Sky news, 300 workers on the tube have been told to self-isolate – and subsequently TFL has had no choice but to shut two of its main lines. Similar problems are reported on railways, which have reduced their timetables.

Even more worryingly, England is “facing weeks of disruption to bin collection, transport and food supply due to staff self-isolating”. Already there are troublesome photographs of empty supermarket shelves across the newspapers, and this will no doubt lead to panic among the public.

The Government’s answer to all this is to allow more key workers to take part in its daily (lateral flow) testing scheme, so that – regardless of vaccination status – staff at ports, airports and in border control, among others, are exempt from having to self-isolate. They can do this whether they’re notified by the Covid app or a Test and Trace official, and it will mean that thousands of workers are freed up from the scheme.

However, there are clearly upcoming problems for the Government. For one, hotels and restaurants have been left off the list – leading industry representatives to warn that the UK is in for a “summer of closures”. And ministers have also been told that the UK does not have the testing capacity to bring the “pingdemic” to a quick end

The upcoming weeks will be a great test for the Government, as to how quickly it can rehabilitate struggling sectors, without vast swathes of the public simply deciding to delete the app taxpayers spent tens of billions on.

Perhaps part of the reason some are taken off guard by the disruption is low expectations of the app. Innumerable articles were written about NHS Test and Trace missing its target. Indeed, the depressing paradox to our current situation is that it shows the app is working – actually too well. Such is its efficacy, that there were calls for it to be made “less sensitive”.

The “pingdemic” is, in fact, coined by the same media which once bemoaned the app’s failures to track contacts, and shone a spotlight on Dido Harding, head of the programme until April 2021, who was accused of failing the nation.

Watching her treatment the past year, it reminded me of that which Kate Bingham, who headed the vaccine task force, received – demonised for being married to a Conservative MP. She is now regarded as a hero and vindicated. 

Harding’s job arguably invited more criticism, as when Test and Trace doesn’t work, people are unhappy – and now that it does, people are even more unhappy. Furthermore, it is rarely taken into account that she had to build the app in the worst possible moment – a pandemic – perhaps a large part of why there have been spiralling difficulties and expenses (if you’re going to blame anyone for Test and Trace’s delays, blame successive governments for not running pilots).

In the coming weeks, the Government and its advisers may further their exemption list from the “pingdemic” and tweak the app. Experts say it could “incorporate new science about the length of Covid exposure”, for instance.

But ultimately, the complaints about NHS Test and Trace will beg larger questions – about whether this app was really what people wanted in the first place (and plenty did). One whose success can be measured by how annoying it is. Either way, one wonders if Harding will have her Kate Bingham moment of vindication…

Newslinks for Saturday 24th July 2021

24 Jul

England facing weeks of ‘pingdemic’ disruption to services and food supply

“England is facing weeks of disruption to bin collection, transport and food supply due to staff self-isolating, companies and councils have warned, amid concerns the 16 August date to lift quarantine for the double-vaccinated could be delayed. No 10 was on Friday scrambling to set up a system to let more key workers take daily tests rather than isolate for 10-days, over fears that large parts of the economy could grind to a halt over the so-called “pingdemic”. Ministers initially said that there would only be a narrow definition of critical workers allowed to be routinely excused from quarantine, with about 10,000 workers at 500 food distribution sites and some NHS and social care workers permitted to take daily tests instead of isolation.” – The Guardian

Latest wave of Channel migrants to hit 22,000

“Border Force is braced for 22,000 migrants to cross the Channel in small boats this year with thousands more expected to be smuggled over in lorries. More than 8,900 migrants have already reached Britain after making the 21-mile journey across from France, exceeding last year’s record total. Analysis by The Times using data from the past 18 months suggests the numbers could double by October. By the end of the year, a further 12,900 are forecast to cross, according to a formula that has accurately predicted this year’s figures so far. It would take the total for this year to about 22,000. That is almost triple the 8,420 that made it across in 2020, which was itself four times higher than the previous year’s figure.” – The Sun

  • Pregnant migrants risk Channel dash – The Times

Not enough cash to finish HS2 in the north, ministers warned

“Huge upgrades to the transport system such as HS2 are being threatened by delays and mounting costs, according to a government audit. A report published by the Infrastructure and Projects Authority warned that plans for some major rail improvements may require significant changes before they can be completed. The annual study gave the lowest “red” rating to the northern section of HS2 – phase 2b – which means that successful delivery of the scheme “appears to be unachievable”. The conclusions were made as it emerged that a Department for Transport decision on the future of the line and other rail projects in the north and Midlands was being delayed until the autumn.” – The Sun

Interview – Allegra Stratton: ‘Cop26 is our moment of truth, when we say how we’re getting to net zero’

“Like many of us Allegra Stratton has a diesel car that she frets about replacing and a gas boiler that she worries about in winter with a house full of children. However, unlike the rest of us she is also the face and the voice of Boris Johnson’s climate change ambitions. And sitting in her north London garden on a sweltering day she is well aware of the potential irony. “If what you’re driving at is people are nervous of being told they can’t drive certain cars or have certain boilers then I am that person,” she says. “I don’t want anybody to be telling me tomorrow that I need to spend thousands on a new car or thousands on a new boiler. But that’s not what we’re doing.” – The Times

Families could get rewards for healthy living in new war on obesity

“Boris Johnson is to launch a government-backed rewards programme for families switching to healthier food and exercising under radical plans to tackle Britain’s obesity crisis. The scheme will monitor family supermarket spending, rewarding those who reduce their calorie intake and buy more fruit and vegetables. People increasing their exercise by taking part in organised events or walking to school will also accumulate extra “points” in a new app. On Friday night, Lord Stevens, the outgoing head of the NHS, warned that the health service would struggle struggle to cope in future if there were not radical moves to tackle obesity.” – Daily Telegraph

Tory poll lead over Labour collapses to just four percent – the lowest in six months – amid fury over national insurance tax hike to fund social care reforms

“The Tory party’s lead has collapsed to just four percent – the lowest in six months – amid fury over a national insurance tax hike to fund social care reforms. It is the Conservative’s smallest lead since mid-February, when the UK was in the midst of its third lockdown, according to a YouGov poll conducted for The Times. The data gave Johnson’s government only 38 per cent support, down from 44 per cent the previous week. By comparison, Labour had gained three points for 34 per cent support. It comes as Johnson faces a Cabinet revolt over social care after Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng publicly dismissed the idea of funding social care reforms by hiking national insurance.” – Daily Mail

Comment:

Grand ambitions: Johnson’s two years as prime minister

“It was the week that was supposed to be a turning point — as well as the second anniversary — for Boris Johnson’s premiership. On Monday the prime minister had hoped to mark “Freedom Day” with a high-profile cultural visit as he released the nation from lockdown, before finally unveiling his plans to overhaul social care on Tuesday. A cabinet away day in a northern red wall seat to emphasise his commitment to levelling up was pencilled in for Thursday. Yesterday he was expected to celebrate the anniversary in Downing Street. Instead, his ambitions were again thwarted by Covid. Both Johnson and Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, had to self-isolate after Sajid Javid, the health secretary, tested positive after their meeting on social care on Friday last week.” – The Times

Tokyo Olympics – Opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics showcases elegance, simplicity and precision

“Once it was under way, it was possible to forget at times what a uniquely bizarre occasion the opening of the Tokyo Olympics has become. There is a well-established formula for such occasions: fireworks, a parade of athletes, the lighting of the torch, and an elaborate musical performance, a pageant expressing a combination of national pride and cosy Olympic togetherness. In Tokyo, we had been promised a subdued, rather than a triumphalist show, and in its way it was delicate and rather beautiful. There was a video montage of striving athletes, a sequence of petals and blood vessels projected in light upon the stadium floor, and a performance of butoh avant-garde dance.” – The Times

News in brief:

Johnson now has the serious task of restoring pride to the working class, failed by Labour

24 Jul

The New Snobbery: Taking on Modern Elitism and Empowering the Working Class by David Skelton

If David Skelton had delayed publication of this book by many more months, he would have had to rename it The New Orthodoxy.

For the lessons he urged in his last book, Little Platoons: How a revived One Nation can empower England’s forgotten towns and redraw the political map, are becoming more and more widely accepted.

That book was reviewed on ConHome in October 2019, and in December of that year Boris Johnson redrew the political map by leading the Conservatives to victory in many of the forgotten towns.

Or the blue remembered towns, as one might now call them. The initiative now lies with the Conservatives.

The “new snobbery” identified by Skelton is mainly a problem for the Labour Party, which needs to regain the seats it lost in 2019, and cannot do so as long as voters in places like Hartlepool, captured by the Conservatives at a by-election held less than three months ago, feel despised by many on the Left.

That astonishing result came just in time for Skelton, who writes:

“Once the scale of the Hartlepool defeat for Labour had become clear, elements of the Left indulged in another round of electorate blaming. One claimed that the problem for the Left was that ‘a huge number of the general public are racists and bigots’ and asked, ‘How do you begin to tackle entrenched idiocy like that?’ Another claimed, ‘We don’t have an opposition problem. We have an electorate problem.'”

Skelton has collected much snobbery of this kind, some of which he quotes in his piece this week for ConHome.

In his book Skelton reminds us that such sentiments are not new. Here is Engels to Marx in November 1868, as newly enfranchised working-class voters supported “reactionary” parties:

“The proletariat has discredited itself terribly.”

Nobody has put it better than Engels. The workers often refuse to behave as progressive middle-class intellectuals instruct them to behave.

Skelton writes in a rushed, clumsy and gloomy tone about the dreadful delusions of the leftie intellectuals, but surely they have more cause for despondency as they contemplate Johnson’s to them incomprehensible success.

Lunatic “woke” nostrums, and attempts by their adherents to usher in a tyranny of virtue, cry out for a new Michael Wharton who helps us laugh to scorn these impertinent attempts to purify our history, language, institutions and the rest.

Earlier this week, I met a peer who has just been on one of the courses where members of the House of Lords are taught how to behave. He took it all with the utmost docility, but at the end asked his instructor whether it was all right to be rude to an Old Etonian.

“Oh yes,” she replied without a moment’s thought.

And perhaps that is one of the things people like about Johnson. One can be as rude as one wants to him and he doesn’t seem to mind.

The Prime Minister has an old-fashioned idea of liberty, as involving a degree of tastelessness; a propensity to live and let live; and a willingness to tease the Puritans, not least by avoiding a culture war fought on their own ineffably humourless terms.

We now have Wharton, not as a columnist for The Daily Telegraph, but as Prime Minister: a man capable of seeing the absurdity of everyone, including himself.

But there is another part of Skelton’s story where gloom is understandable. The destruction of great industries, the loss of skilled trades, the humiliation of proud workers reduced to scraping a precarious existence, is the dismal post-war story in town after town.

The example closest to Skelton’s heart is the closure in 1980 of the great steelworks in his home town of Consett, a topic dealt with at greater length in his previous book.

One of the worst things about the nationalisation after the Second World War of the commanding heights of the British economy was that decisions were no longer taken locally, but in London, where it was easier to pretend that parsimonious investment, limited by Treasury rules and recurrent public spending crises, would be adequate to modernise these grand old industries.

Local pride and ownership were lost. Now everyone owned the plant, which meant nobody owned it, and its future was in the hands of distant politicians and officials who for the most part had no deep knowledge or commitment.

The nationalised industries declined into job-preservation schemes which failed even in their own terms, a series of doomed rearguard actions as the great names of British manufacturing went under.

Just as modern architecture done on the cheap in the 1950s and 1960s led increasing numbers of us to shudder at the idea of allowing anything to be built, so regional policy and industrial policy were discredited by a lengthening record of failure.

In his recent Levelling Up speech, Johnson lamented the “basic half-heartedness” of the 40 different schemes or bodies which over the last 40 years have tried to boost local or regional growth.

He admitted that “for many decades we relentlessly crushed local leadership” because “we were in the grip of a real ideological conflict in which irresponsible municipal socialist governments were bankrupting cities”.

Now, he rejoiced, “that argument is over and most of the big metro mayors know that private sector investment is crucial”.

So we are at last returning to local leadership. That at least is the idea. We can be pragmatic rather than ideological, and can bring everyone together in a particular locality in order to do what works.

Skelton agrees that we should not allow ourselves to get “stuck in the endless trenches of a culture war”.

He observes that the Labour Party “emerged from those great institutions of working-class life: the chapel and the trade union”, but that the proportion of Labour MPs who were manual workers “has fallen from almost 20 per cent in 1979 to less than three per cent today”.

The party has become obsessed by cultural issues, and has forgotten that secure, well-paid work is what matters to its former voters.

Let the Labour Party debate cultural issues to its heart’s content, while the dignity of work is championed by the Conservatives.

Skelton wants to formalise “the partnership between workers and employers” by putting workers on boards, which he thinks would “help to rein in the excesses of executive pay”, and would “increase productivity, enhance retention and promote a long-term focus”, instead of short-term expedients to increase shareholder value.

Every successful Conservative leader from Disraeli to the present day has taken seriously the requirements of the working class, and has thereby triumphed over priggish middle-class Liberals and Socialists who supposed they were the true guardians of the workers. Here is a serious task for Johnson.

Kristy Adams: Without Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services getting more funding, we are storing up trouble

23 Jul

Kristy Adams is a company director. She is leading the Health & Happiness lessons for six to 16 year olds for the online catchup school @InvictaAcademy.

The Government invested an extra £1.4 billion in children’s mental health services from 2015-2020 after the recommendations of the Future in Mind report of 2015. CAMHS currently accounts for 0.7 per cent of NHS spending and around 6.4 per cent of mental health spending.

CAMHS is the child and adolescent mental health services. If your child is having serious mental health problems and is self-harming or suicidal, their school or GP will contact the CAMHS team for an assessment and help for your child.

In the UK we have 14 million children of a total population of just over 68 million, so children make up around 20 per cent of the population – yet CAMHS only receives 6.4 per cent of mental health spending. The numbers don’t add up. The UK is not alone in this fact.

Katie Gibbons wrote in The Times this week about research published in the Evidence-Based Mental Health journal. “The researchers accused high-income nations of failing vulnerable children and said that they could ‘afford to do better’.

“The authors analysed data from 14 studies in 11 countries – the US, Australia, Canada, Chile, Denmark, Britain, Israel, Lithuania, Norway, South Korea and Taiwan – published between 2003 and 2020.”

The studies involved 61,545 children. The authors from Simon Fraser University in Vancouver said, “Only 44.2 per cent of children with mental disorders received any services.” The findings showed “robust services are in place for child physical health problems such as cancer, diabetes and infectious diseases in most of these countries.” The research showed “an invisible crisis in children’s mental health.”

Two families I know well have teenagers who have sought help from the UK CAMHS teams in their area. The service in both cases was superb; highly-skilled experts treated both students, who have gone on not only to survive but thrive. For those that qualify for help the service is first class, but what of the children who don’t meet the threshold for treatment?

Christmas tree twinkling, December 2020, mulled wine on the hob and after such a long time in face masks, lockdowns and fear of losing jobs – the peace seemed a chink of light in my friend Josie’s house. Only for it to be shattered hours later when her 15-year-old daughter found her sister trying to kill herself.

No warning, no run up, ambulance called. The elder daughter is 18. Maisy (not her real name) was admitted to hospital. Neither of her parents was allowed to accompany her and she was released next morning at 7am. One phone call to follow up and that was the end of the mental health support. Gareth Southgate did a better job of supporting his footballers than the mental health team did with a suicidal teenager. The suicidal teenager had undiagnosed autism.

Another friend, Katie, has a 14-year-old daughter Bella, who went into a meltdown over the Government’s communication of how she would gain her GCSEs. Was she taking them? If her teachers were assessing, would she gain the grades needed to gain a college place?

Poor communication from the Government meant teachers and schools hadn’t got a clue what was happening. Bella’s anxiety and fear became more serious as she considered the move from school to a new sixth form. Bella was self harming, wasn’t sleeping and she refused to leave her room. Katie listened to her daughter and contacted school to ask for help. Bella was refused help by CAMHS; she didn’t qualify as she wasn’t trying to take her own life.

Katie took her daughter’s concerns seriously and found a private counsellor and clinician. Bella was diagnosed with autism and, through the help of professionals and her family, she is now doing well. Katie says she was able to get Bella help because they used the money that would have been spent on a holiday, but what about the families in identical circumstances who can’t afford to pay?

Prior to the pandemic I visited a primary school where I led an assembly on democracy. I met the super-efficient head teacher before my talk. Having completed hundreds of school visits over the years – as a director of a learning board trust – I can spot a well-run school at 20 paces.

This one was all singing, all dancing with a buzz of learning and a joy to be in. I asked the Head my killer question. ‘What would you like the Government to do differently to most improve the lives of your students?’ Her reply was instant: fund CAMHS properly.

The previous week one of her students had been self harming with a compass. Because the girl hadn’t broken the skin, she didn’t qualify for CAMHS help. The issue stemmed from the girl’s struggle with undiagnosed dyslexia. Her parents had to pay privately for a professional counsellor.

This began a research project for me. I found three charities that could help schools with trained children’s counsellors and funding. The charities have partnered with churches and faith groups to provide money and resources. I communicated this information to schools and political leaders at a local council.

I believe in personal responsibility, I’m a Conservative and I believe in resourcing all organisations/charities to solve problems. But here’s the crux of the matter – currently CAMHS doesn’t have enough resources to help children in crisis who are not suicidal (and it doesn’t have the money for preventative work) and that’s just not good enough.

It makes sense to invest in mental health for young people because they are valuable, our country’s future and the problems won’t go away. Indeed, the things they are struggling with will be carried into their adult life. One in three adult mental health conditions relate directly to adverse childhood experiences and the NHS will continue to need to give individuals care in adulthood, which involves cost.

If we want to save money, let’s treat the patients while they are children. It makes so much sense to invest in CAMHS so it can offer a broader service including preventative care. Part of the children’s mental health service should include identifying autism in under 18s (and as girls are often failed to be helped, targeting identifying girls.). 50 per cent of the clinical commissioning groups couldn’t give an account of the additional money the Government gave them from 2015-2020 and how it was spent. Greater accountability is required.

The Simon Fraser University in Vancouver researchers concluded governments would “need to substantially increase the spending on children’s mental health budgets.” This is particularly urgent given documented increases in children’s mental health needs since Covid-19.”

Here’s my call to action: identify dyslexia and autism more accurately and earlier to produce better outcomes, and increase the budget for CAHMS – so that services are proportional to the percentage of children in the total population. Both of these will provide a better service to our children and cost the country less money in the long term.

(Names have been changed to protect identities).

Bob Blackman: The Government can end rough sleeping by 2024 – so long as it takes bold policy action now

23 Jul

Bob Blackman is co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Ending Homelessness and MP for Harrow East.

I am proud to co-chair the All Party Parliamentary Group for Ending Homelessness because we never lose sight of what we are for: it is in our name. We do not want to reduce homelessness or minimise it but end it for good.

If that sounds like too big a challenge then I would ask you to do two things. First, look at what was done in the last year to support people without a home in the pandemic. 37,000 people facing homelessness were provided emergency accommodation, with the Everyone In scheme rolled out in a matter of weeks.

A hotel room is not a home, but that combined effort from government and local services showed what can be achieved through bold policy action. There is no doubt that this saved hundreds of lives and led many people to access support for the first time in many years, or ever in some cases. It showed that no one is beyond help. It showed that if the Government makes the right choices now, it can meet its commitment to end rough sleeping by 2024.

That brings me to the second cause for optimism. If you think that homelessness, and indeed rough sleeping, cannot be ended, I would ask you to read the testimonies of the 65 people experiencing homelessness who contributed to the APPG’s latest report.

Battling multiple issues with mental health, addiction and trauma meant many had been stuck in cycles of homelessness for years. They are what are often referred to as the most entrenched rough sleepers.

But thanks to groundbreaking Housing First pilot schemes, which the Government funded in 2017, many are now not only housed but finally have the stability to address those multiple serious issues. In the words of one of our contributors: “I honestly believe if I wasn’t introduced to Housing First and this programme I wouldn’t be here to tell any story.”

Unlike other homelessness schemes, Housing First does not require people to prove they can live in a normal home by first living in shelters and hostels. Though life-saving for many, for people with the most serious needs this support falls short and can, at best, only manage their homelessness.

With Housing First, people are given access to mainstream housing as soon as possible and provided long-term support to help address their other needs. The 2019 Conservative manifesto made the very welcome commitment to end rough sleeping by the end of this parliamentby expanding successful pilots and programmes such as…Housing First”.

In England, the Government recognised the important role of Housing First back in 2018, when it funded three pilots in Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region and West Midlands. They have been hugely successful, housing 450 people by September last year with 88 per cent of clients sustaining tenancies across the programme and contributing just over half of the total of 2,000 Housing First places we currently have across England.

But despite that success, as it stands, funding for the three pilots is set to end from next year. Failure to fund these programmes beyond this would not just be turning our backs on the progress they have made. It would leave over a thousand people who have been promised open ended support at serious risk of being forced back into homelessness.

That cliff edge is understandably causing considerable uncertainty and apprehension among clients and staff and urgently needs resolving. At the very least, we have urged the Government to commit to funding the three pilots beyond next year.

When reading the experience of Housing First clients, what is most striking is not just the level of support they are offered but the choice and direction they have over their own recovery and route of homelessness. As one client said:

“There was never you must do this or you must do that to get something, only suggestions and encouragement for things that would benefit me and when I made the decision if I wanted to engage with other service I was supported with this.”

Choice does not just help tailor the support, it gives clients ownership of their new life away from homelessness and crucially, the responsibility to make it work. That is very different to hostels, which left another client feeling as if all her life decisions were taken out of her hands.

Housing First has also proven to be especially successful for certain groups of people, including prison leavers, young people and women. Addressing the specific needs of women’s homelessness is vital to meeting the Government’s target of ending rough sleeping by 2024. Evidence has shown that more “traditional homelessness services in supported and temporary accommodation are simply not working for some women. Housing First provides a much-needed alternative to this.

Now is the time to build on the success in Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region and West Midlands to create a National Housing First Programme. The pandemic has brought many people who were experiencing long-term homelessness back in touch with services but for many with the most serious issues, successful schemes like the Rough Sleeper Accommodation Programme will not be enough to keep them off the streets for good.

Before the pandemic it was estimated that we needed to increase Housing First places in England from 2,000 to 16,450, though it is likely to now be higher. The upfront cost of expanding the scheme to meet that need is not cheap, with an annual cost of £150 million for people to receive the support they need to build a life away from homelessness. But the long-term savings are considerable. The Centre of Social Justice estimates that for every £1 spent on Housing First, £1.56 is saved across the criminal justice, health and homelessness sectors.

This investment however, will only be realised if it is backed up by addressing England’s serious lack of affordable housing. With Housing First built on the principle of giving people a home as soon as possible to start their recovery, a lack of appropriate housing has been a major challenge for all three of the pilot regions so addressing this will build even more on the effectiveness of this overall approach.

We should be proud of the efforts made to provide emergency accommodation to people facing homelessness in the last year. But failure to build on that progress could see us go backwards, with people in the most vulnerable situations bearing the brunt of this unravelling.

The Government must start by committing to funding the Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region and West Midlands Housing First pilots and then begin to scale the scheme up across England. It is time to end homelessness, not manage it.