Spending on social care for people with severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, is being cut behind closed doors, despite government promises of transparency, says a report launched today by the charity Rethink Mental Illness.
The way things currently stand, local authorities do not have to publish their spending plans for the coming financial year, when their budgets are finalised in April.
In many areas, the only way to get hold of this information is through a Freedom of Information request (FOI). Even then, very often what comes back is a set of complex spreadsheets, designed for government officials with no accompanying explanation of the thinking behind the changes.
This makes it impossible for individuals or organisations to enter into any kind of meaningful debate about spending on mental health. It means vital services such as supported housing or support workers who help people live independently, can be cut under a shroud of secrecy.
At a time when huge swathes of power are being shifted away from central government and towards local authorities, through the Localism Bill, these basic democratic principles are more important than ever.
Rethink Mental Illness’ new report, Lost in Localism, details the charity’s struggle to get hold of clear, consistent data from local authorities, so they could compare local mental health spending year on year.
Paul Jenkins, CEO of Rethink Mental Illness said: “We originally set out to find these numbers over a year ago, because our members - people with mental illness and their families – wanted to know if mental health spending in their area was being cut.
“We were shocked to find how hard it is to get hold of this basic data. If we, as a national charity with policy and research teams can’t get this information, what hope do ordinary people have?
“Eric Pickles says he wants us all to become ‘armchair auditors’ and our members are more than ready to take up his challenge, but at the moment the numbers are almost impossible to get hold of.”
By April 2013, the charity is calling on local authorities to:
· Have meaningful consultations with residents before budgets are finalised
· Assess how cuts will impact on vulnerable people and take this into account when making spending decisions
· Clearly spell out how much money they’re planning to spend on mental health, as soon as the budget is set in April
· Present this information in a way which ordinary people can understand
· Ensure this information easy to access
The report invites ministers and other groups to work with the charity to come up with workable solutions to this information deficit.
“The current government has made transparency one of their top priorities and we applaud them for that, but when it comes to local decision making, those good intentions aren’t being translated into action,” added Jenkins.
The charity is launching its ‘show me the money’ e-campaign today, encouraging people to email Grant Shapps MP, the minister responsible for local government, urging him to back their proposals.
Spokespeople are available for interview on request
For an embargoed copy of the report, please contact Rachel Whitehead, News and Media Manager, Rethink Mental Illness 0207 840 3138 firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes to editors
Rethink Mental Illness is a charity that believes a better life is possible for millions of people affected by mental illness.
For 40 years we have brought people together to support each other. We run services and support groups that change people’s lives and challenge attitudes about mental illness.
We directly support almost 60,000 people every year across England to get through crises, to live independently and to realise they are not alone.
We give information and advice to 500,000 more and we change policy for millions.
For more information go to www.rethink.org
News and Media Manager, Rethink Mental Illness
0207 840 3138
Tweet me! @Rachel_Rethink
For information on our email policy, including confidentiality and viruses, visit http://www.rethink.org/emailpolicy
Rethink Mental Illness is the operating name of the National Schizophrenia Fellowship, a company limited by guarantee. Registered in England Number 1227970. Registered charity no. 271028. Registered Office 89 Albert Embankment, London, SE1 7TP.