Grenfell wasn’t an isolated tragedy. Poverty destroys many lives in Britain | Kamran Ahmed

Working as a junior psychiatrist, I saw first-hand how policies that fail to protect the disadvantaged lead to ill-health, stress and reduced life expectancy

A tragedy as gut-wrenching as Grenfell Tower has scarcely been seen during peace time in the UK. The negligence and cruelty of the decisions that caused it have sparked justifiable outrage. Concerns raised by residents were ignored and there are allegations that dangerous materials were used to cut costs and make the building look nice for the rich folk. People understandably take to the streets to protest and seek justice.

Related: The Grenfell Tower tragedy should see off austerity. But don’t hold your breath | Patrick Butler

Poverty is a cause and consequence of accidents and ill-health

Continue reading…

Disabled people’s voices needed in political debate | Letters

Letters from Phyl Meyer of the access to Elected Office Fund (Scotland), Michelle Mitchell of the MS Society, Ted Hill of the British Polio Fellowship, Clare Pelham of the Epilepsy Society and others

The article by Frances Ryan (24 May) regarding the lack of support for disabled candidates seeking election raises an important issue that the next UK government must address. Missing from the article was reference to the situation in Scotland, where the Scottish government has funded the creation of the Access to Elected Office Fund (Scotland). The Scottish fund recently supported 39 disabled candidates in the local authority elections, of whom 15 were elected. Unfortunately the terms of the Scotland Act 1998 prevent the Scottish government from funding a project which covers the UK general elections as these are fully reserved to Westminster, so we are unable to assist disabled candidates who have come forward in this election. If we are ever to achieve fair representation for all sections of society, the general election this month must be the last one ever to systematically exclude disabled people from equal opportunity to serve in elected office. The only way this can be achieved is reinstatement of the UK fund (allowing the Scottish fund to cover UK elections in Scotland), and the introduction of job-sharing for elected office roles (which will also open up elected office to more people with childcare responsibilities, among others).
Phyl Meyer
Project manager, Access to Elected Office Fund (Scotland)

• Tomorrow the Disability Benefits Consortium will be delivering a resolute plea to party leaders, urging them to protect disability benefits from further cuts in the next parliament. More than 16,500 people have backed this call in an open letter being delivered to party leaders tomorrow. As a coalition of 80 charities and organisations, we are seeing every day how years of damaging welfare reform are having a devastating impact. Across the country, thousands of disabled people are currently struggling without the support they need.

Continue reading…

Britain at economic and moral crisis point | Letters

Clare Slaney, Richard House and 73 others involved in the mental health field say that voters face an unusually grave choice on 8 June

British society is in crisis. Suicide is now the leading cause of death in men under 45. The Royal Society of Medicine tells us that “relentless cuts” have led to an extra 30,000 deaths. A report to the UN from the Equality and Human Rights Commission noted that work capability assessments “have been linked to suicides and cases of deteriorating mental health”. Benefit sanctions have caused hunger, hypothermia, homelessness and deaths. It is scarcely believable that food banks have become a societal norm. Workplace stress is at epidemic proportions, with working conditions increasingly amounting to servitude. People work for pitiful wages and uncertain numbers of hours, while the highly paid are expected to work a 70-plus hour week. Increasingly, people have to fit sleep around their working life. Employment and wealth have become the primary arbiters of a person’s value and character.

In our view, voters need to revisit fundamental values. Are human beings nothing more than economic units? Are some people valued more than others? Are vulnerable people deserving of public expenditure, or are they disposable? Do neighbours and communities matter – or are we merely people in housing units? Poverty creates chronic mental and physical illnesses that cost a great deal across the life cycle. UK productivity is the lowest in the G7, in part because of stress, because increasing numbers of people hate their jobs, but also because employers refuse to meaningfully invest in their workforce. Treating people as objects has destructive economic effects at every level.

Continue reading…

‘I was a citizen, now I’m nothing’: disabled readers on life under austerity | Frances Ryan

Lying on the floor for hours awaiting help, unable to afford both incontinence pants and food … This is the reality of disability cuts for Stephen, Alex and Elli

When Theresa May was challenged by a disabled voter over cuts to her disability benefits and social care last month, it shone a light on the way Conservative policies post-2010 have disproportionately targeted disabled people. Recent years have seen the introduction of many cuts and changes – from the rollout of “fit to work” tests to the abolition of disability living allowance – as well as a lack of action on existing inequalities, such as inaccessible housing. It all amounts to an unprecedented assault on disabled people’s rights and living standards in Britain.

In a series of interviews over several months, the Guardian has followed three disabled readers – Stephen, Alex, and Elli – as they experience the reality of life since austerity.

To afford a wheelchair, Alex had to sell the TV, phone, plates, mugs, second-hand laptop and clothes

Related: In confronting Theresa May, Kathy has spoken up for all Britain’s disabled people | Frances Ryan

Continue reading…

Birmingham: ‘Each year the benefit system is more heartless’

In the run-up to the general election, six Guardian reporters are writing from constituencies across the country to find out what matters to you and in your area. In the second of a series of dispatches from Erdington, Birmingham, Nazia Parveen and photographer Christopher Thomond meet church leaders helping those in need – and struggling with the question of who is responsible

In 2010, when David Cameron launched his “big society” project in Liverpool, he talked a lot about empowering communities. The idea, he said, was “a deep, serious reform agenda to take power away from politicians and give it to people”. But then austerity took the big society’s place as the government’s defining idea, and the phrase disappeared from the party’s literature. It was dismissed as an “enormous failure”.

Seven years on from that launch, on a sunny afternoon 100 miles south of Liverpool, Cameron’s big idea is reluctantly being reheated in a Labour heartland. Today’s “empowered community”, as Cameron would have it, are the leaders and volunteers of the many churches and mosques in Erdington, a Birmingham suburb. They might wish they didn’t have to, but they are helping to meet the needs of some of the most impoverished people in society.

Continue reading…

To improve mental health, start with benefits system | Sarah Chapman

Depression and anxiety haunt the people who use our food bank. We need a safety net to support people in poverty, not penalise them

Two-thirds of British adults have experienced mental health problems at some point in their lives, according to the Mental Health Foundation. For people forced to use a food bank like ours, the figures are even higher.

It’s no wonder. The NHS says depression can be caused by “an upsetting or stressful life event, such as bereavement, divorce, illness, redundancy and job or money worries”. People who use food banks face many of these – often at the same time.

Related: How to set up a food bank in your local community

Policies that create appalling situations that damage people’s health make me more angry than I can say

Related: Benefits Britain: can you separate fact from fiction? – quiz

Continue reading…

Labour would ban junk food adverts during TV popular with children

The measure would be part of a £250m-a-year scheme to make UK youngsters the healthiest in the world

Adverts for junk food and sweets will be banned from hit TV shows including The X Factor, Hollyoaks and Britain’s Got Talent under Labour plans to tackle childhood obesity.

Related: Junk food ads targeting children banned in non-broadcast media

Continue reading…

If we want to improve mental health, first we need to tackle poverty | Dawn Foster

Prince Harry’s intervention on mental health is welcome, but removing stigma alone is not enough – the debate needs to look at the role of poverty

Mental health discourse welcomed an unexpected participant this month. Prince Harry, the fifth in line to the throne, spoke publicly about seeking counselling following his mother’s sudden death in his pre-teen years. Rightly, mental health charities praised his intervention, highlighting as it did that even extreme privilege cannot shelter us from depression, anxiety or any other psychiatric illness. Our bodies are fragile, and our minds equally so: this message is increasingly accepted as people with mental health problems, campaigners and medics alike have fought to end stigma by building a national conversation on mental health.

Removing the stigma around mental health is important but does little alone. Without services, treatment is still inadequate, and feeling less judged for your health issues means little if you’re faced with a lack of access to talking therapies and nonexistent community support. But the conversation on mental health also needs to examine how the structures of society cause and perpetuate poor mental health.

Related: On mental health, the royal family is doing more than our government | William Davies

Failing to address childhood mental health linked to poverty is like scrimping on a car repair only to crash into a wall

Continue reading…

Antidepressants prescribed far more in deprived English coastal towns

Rate in Blackpool, Sunderland and East Lindsey almost twice the national average, analysis of NHS prescription data shows

Doctors in deprived coastal towns in the north and east of England are prescribing almost twice as many antidepressants as those in the rest of the country, analysis of prescription data shows.

Blackpool, Sunderland and East Lindsey, in Skegness, fill the top three spots for the most prescriptions out of England’s 326 districts.

Continue reading…

Find the funds to help girls buy their sanitary products | Letters

I was saddened to read your report (Girls from poorer families ‘struggling to buy tampons’, 18 March). This is alarming and consistent with the rising levels of child poverty in this still wealthy country. But with our current divisive Brexit fixation, this situation will only deteriorate. It is no wonder that mental health problems are affecting more and more young people. To add this extra burden on young girls at a sensitive time of the month is iniquitous, leaving them languishing at home negating their education at a very important stage.

It is to be hoped that the government thinks again about the funding for schools, as this will undoubtedly lead to more teachers being made redundant and their altruism to these girls will be placed further in jeopardy. Please, Mrs May, forget your vainglorious grammar schools and bring our girls back from the brink where even the basics are unaffordable.
Judith Daniels
Great Yarmouth, Norfolk

Continue reading…

Mental health care of people in prison | Letters

The prison and courts bill has its second reading in parliament tomorow. For the first time, the purpose of prisons will be enshrined in law. We support the Royal College of Psychiatrists in urging the government to ensure prisons meet the mental and physical health needs of prisoners. Almost a quarter of the prison population suffers from personality disorders, bipolar disorder or depression. Prisoners will eventually return to the community. When they are released, any untreated mental illness is released with them. Prisons must be clearly responsible for tackling the mental disorders, which if left untreated, could cause prisoners to reoffend. The prison and courts bill is an opportunity to prevent prison suicide, reduce reoffending and foster rehabilitation. We urge the government not to waste it.
Norman Lamb MP Lib Dem health lead, Richard Burgon MP Shadow secretary of state for Justice, Dan Poulter MP Former health minister (Conservative), Kate Green MP Vice-chair, all-party parliamentary group on penal affairs (Labour), Johnny Mercer MP Vice-chair, APPG on mental health (Conservative)

• There are several reasons which couldhelp the governmentto explain why England and Wales have the highest imprisonment rate in western Europe (Report, 15 March). There is shocking deprivation in many cities and ever-rising homelessness. The single adult unemployment benefit is £73.10 a week; it has reduced in value since 1979 and has not been increased since April 2015. That £73.10 a week is incapable of providing a healthy diet and other necessities for a woman during the development of a child in her womb. Poor maternal nutrition and low birth weight have, since 1972, been called he strongest predictor of poor learning ability, school performance, behavioral disorders and crime by the Institute of Brain Chemistry and Human Nutrition.
Rev Paul Nicolson
Taxpayers Against Poverty

Continue reading…