The Association welcomes the publication of the Government’s Winter Plan for Mental Health and Wellbeing – “Staying Mentally Well This Winter.”
The Plan outlines some of the key steps already taken by the Government to support the mental health needs of the nation during the pandemic and shares their commitments to address some of the challenges being faced by people and services over the winter period. We particularly welcome the recognition in the Plan for a whole-life, whole-system approach – covering children and young people, carers, public health, and social care.
The impact of the pandemic and national lockdown on mental health has been clear since the beginning and we have continued to see this worsen over the course of the year – both for those with existing as well as no pre-existing mental health needs. As the national representative organisation for VCSE providers of mental health and wellbeing services, we have been engaging with our membership to inform the work of Government since March 2020 and ensuring the experiences and lessons are being shared and learnt. The VCSE sector adapted swiftly to continue providing support in the initial months of the pandemic and first lockdown, and has worked with people with living experience of poor mental health throughout to help shape solutions.
We appreciate additional funding of £500m for the NHS to address waiting times for mental health services, give more people the mental health support they need, and invest in the NHS workforce, however, are concerned that the VCSE and social care sectors – essential in providing services in the community – have once again been overlooked. The VCSE mental health sector has been underfunded for decades and the pandemic is making the cracks in investment quite clear.
We welcome the recognition, in the Plan, of the crucial role the voluntary sector has played in supporting communities during the pandemic. However, we must also recognise that any funding directly received by the mental health VCSE and social care sectors has been minimal and this must change – the sector needs to be properly resourced and funded to meet the scale of the crisis the sector has been facing. We must address the long-term sustainability of the wider VCSE mental health sector especially at a time when these services are and will be most needed.
Whilst we were pleased and grateful for the investment in the VCSE sector early on via the VCSE Health and Wellbeing Alliance Mental Health Consortium, and were pleased to have chaired the Governance Group for the £5m grant fund, we continue to emphasise that this was a mere drop in the ocean and further highlighted the need of communities disproportionately impacted by Covid-19. We welcomed the recent announcement of funding for support/helplines and will continue to work with the Government in this area.
Although we welcome several positive elements including various streams of funding and commitments to address challenges through different avenues including for those with SMI and physical health conditions, we are concerned about the lack of mention of inequalities in the entire mental health plan. The pandemic has already inflicted a heavy toll on the nation’s mental health, with a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable in society and it is vital that any Government plan to support people considers actions through an inequalities lens going forward.
As outlined in a cross-sector letter to the Prime Minister in June urging the Government to create a new Mental Health Renewal Plan, we highlighted that collaboration between the Government and the voluntary and social are sectors is key going forward to ensure good quality support is available in the community, quickly and in a way that is needed. We also recommended and now welcome the recognition of a clearer cross-government mental health strategy, with the establishment of a group to consider and respond to the long-term impacts of the pandemic on mental health and wellbeing more broadly. We look forward to working with this group of Ministers and departments to ensure the VCSE and social care sectors continue to be represented.
As the co-Chair of the Mental Health Advisory Group to the Social Care Sector COVID-19 Support Taskforce, we are pleased to see the advice and recommendations made in our report over the summer are being reviewed and considered. Significantly, our report ensured the importance of the voice of people with living experience of mental health needs, the need to address inequalities in access to mental health support and outcomes in mental health for people and communities is recognised. We will continue to support the Government through our continued membership of the newly-defined Social Care Stakeholder Group and the continuation of our Mental Health and Wellbeing Policy and Oversight Group to inform any further work, and look forward to future announcements on this.
As we look ahead, The Association will continue to work with our members and partners to ensure that the impact of Covid-19 on VCSE mental health and wellbeing provider organisations is understood and communicated as effectively as possible and will continue to recognise the importance of the voice of lived/living experience and providers of community social care mental health services in informing all mental health plans.
Read the Mental Health Winter Plan here.