Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference 2013: Mental Health Commission

15th September 2013

'CentreForum Mental Health Commission'


Rt Hon Paul Burstow MP

Chair: Professor Stephen Lee, CentreForum

CentreForum's Saturday morning fringe event at the Liberal Democrat conference focused on the Mental Health Commission launched May 2013. 

Rt Hon Paul Burstow MP, who is chair of this Commission, began by giving context to mental health within the UK, stating that mental health is one of the leading causes of disability and impacts economically through health related costs as well as lost productivity, leading to an annual spend of £105 million. In 2011, the cross-governmental mental health strategy, 'No Health Without Mental Health' was launched which focuses upon the co-morbidity of physical and mental health, resource allocation and psychological therapies, as well as other key areas. 

Paul then discussed the work of the Mental Health Commission and indicated the key themes that are emerging. The first being the need for recovery orientated services that allow the health and social care professionals to work with service users to meet personally defined goals as well as clinical outcomes. Paul gave examples of the Improving Recovery through Organisational Change (ImROC) initiative which addresses co-produced recovery through peer support and recovery colleges.

Paul then alluded to the second emerging theme of stigma and highlighted the important work of 'Time to Change' which had received a £16 million investment from government. Paul also emphasised the importance of challenging the current model of mental health care from a 'stock' model, focusing upon retention and curative practices, to a 'flow' model focusing upon promotion, prevention and early intervention.  

Paul concluded by making the audience aware of the commissioners involved: Paul Farmer, CEO Mind; Paul Jenkins, CEO Rethink; Victor Adebowale, CEO Turning Point; Professor Sue Bailey, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists; Angela Greatley, Trust Chair of the Tavistock & Portman NHS Trust Foundation Trust; and Dr Alison Rose-Quirie, Chair of Independent Mental Health Service Alliance. The Mental Health Commission is expected to report in May 2014.  

Reported by Holly Taggart


Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference: Social mobility: The next steps

16 September 2013

‘Social mobility: The next steps’

Hosted in partnership with the Webb Memorial Trust


Rt Hon Alan Milburn, Chair of Social Mobility Commission
Mike Parker, Webb Memorial Trust
Baroness Tyler

Chair: James Kempton, CentreForum

This CentreForum fringe meeting, in partnership with the Webb Memorial Trust addressed how we can try and reverse recent trends of poor social mobility in a time when government and personal budgets are squeezed, and the gap between the rich and poor is increasing.

Mike Parker began by giving a brief history of the Webb Memorial Trust and the lives of Sidney and Beatrice Webb, focusing particularly on Beatrice’s minority report on the Poor Law, that poverty wasn’t a failure of the individual but an economic failure. He said that this was a radical view at the time and still is today given the rhetoric on “scroungers”. He stated that one of the roles of the Trust is to dispel myths surrounding poverty, citing YouGov surveys which he called worrying that showed that when people were confronted with real poverty statistics they refused to believe them. He called for a more positive narrative on poverty: what would a society without poverty look like? Invoking Beveridge, he spoke of normality asking “how equal should a normal society be?” Is it right that the top 10% of incomes soar while the bottom 10% relies on food banks? Lastly, he criticised the admonishing of the poor for owning flat screen TV’s or smartphones, saying that this is what is normal in today’s society and that we shouldn’t exclude people from normality.

Second to speak was Baroness Tyler who spoke of worrying social mobility trends, particularly the over-representation of the most privileged in society’s top roles while those on free school meals are under-represented vastly. She spoke of the importance of Character & Resilience in social mobility and how the APPG on Social Mobility, of which she is vice chair, is focusing on that. She cited research by Nobel Prize winning economist James Heckman which showed that non-cognitive skills were as important in determining life outcomes as cognitive ones. The encouraging news on this is that such skills are not innate and can be taught, and finished by saying that the APPG is working on a report with CentreForum to address inequalities in Character and Resilience, citing some policy possibilities such as greater early years intervention and a larger emphasis on these skills in schools.

The Rt Hon Alan Milburn reiterated concerns over poor social mobility trends as mentioned by Baroness Tyler, but spoke of having hope on the issue because progress has been made and all parties have nailed their colours to the mast of social mobility, and spoke of Nick Clegg’s commitment to the cause. However, he said the current situation of squeezed budgets makes this goal difficult. He then went on to talk about how important early years are for social mobility criticising the amount of GDP we spend on the area in comparison to nations that are most socially mobile, and spoke of the importance of getting mothers back into work and of what happens in families, stressing that while there is lots of focus on what happens in schools, this isn’t the case for what happens in the home, and while it will take courage to address the issue it is very important. He criticised both the current and previous government stating they had no coherent plan on social mobility, just a set of haphazard incremental steps. He then emphasised the importance of Further Education, calling for applications and funding in that area to be unified with Higher Education into the UCAS system, so those without academic qualifications aren’t faced with the cuirrent barriers that exist for FE students. The Chair of the Social Mobility Commission also talked about the problem of stagnating incomes: 60% of children in poverty have at least one working parent. These are the type of people who do what the government says, they work hard but still get left behind. He closed by saying the government should set a spending commitment on education in the manner it has done on international aid.

Report by Sam Fowkes

Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference 2013: Energy consumers: Fair deal or raw deal?

16 September 2013

‘Energy consumers: Fair deal or raw deal?’

Hosted in partnership with British Gas


Rt Hon Edward Davey MP
Richard Lloyd, Which?
Ian Peters, British Gas

Chair: Duncan Greenland, CentreForum

With a continuing squeeze on incomes, fuel bills are becoming an increasingly significant issue as people struggle to heat and light their home. Combine this with concerns over the environmental impact of the high use of fossil fuels then what both the government and energy firms are doing to help consumers is an important issue. This fringe meeting sought to determine whether consumers really are getting all the help they can.

Ian Peters began by addressing the relatively small profits of British Gas, which are 5p in the pound, telling people that the reason for high energy prices was an increase in costs that were out of the control of British Gas, such as the wholesale costs of fuel. He went on to stress that much of the profit British Gas do make is re-invested in helping consumers, for example, in insulating more properties than anyone else in the country, so even when gas prices do rise, it isn’t necessary that bills do too. Overall, he said British Gas has re-invested £12bn in the past five years alone. He also said that the move, called for by Which?, to move to single unit tariffs would have unfair distributional impacts, saying that many of those who use the most energy are the poorest and most vulnerable living in poorly insulated homes, and that under a single tariff, these users would pay more to subsidise those who use less energy, who are in many cases better off than those who use less. He closed by saying that he realises energy companies have to work hard to win back public trust, but that British Gas are doing that by regularly making consumers aware of cheaper tariffs, and that the small amount of profit that British Gas does make is invested in keeping Britain well lit and warm into the future.

Richard Lloyd of Which? stressed throughout his speech the importance of transparency, starting by saying that consumers don’t trust energy companies to deliver a fair deal or decarbonisation because of their lack of transparency. He criticised the length of time that price obfuscation has been going on in the industry, saying that recent reforms aren’t going to address the problem sufficiently. He said that the real gain for consumers would come through a change to a single unit tariff, but that it’s convenient for energy companies not to offer this. Returning to transparency, he criticised the dealing of energy companies on the wholesale market, where deals take place behind closed doors, saying that the market should be opened up and cordoned off from the retail market. In particular, he criticised Ian Peters statement that British Gas only has a profit margin of 5% when its parent company Centrica actually has a margin of over 20%. Finally, he called for the National Audit Office to examine the dealings of energy companies and what the government is doing to help consumers.

Last to speak was energy secretary Ed Davey MP, who focused largely on what the current government has done to address problems in the fuel markets, saying that they’ve simplified tariffs and are focusing on renewables in order to reduce reliance on a volatile fossil fuel market. Further, he echoed Ian Peter’s worry regarding the distributional impact of changing to a single tariff system. Moving onto the wholesale market, Ed Davey criticised the last Labour government saying that their energy reforms played a large part in reduced competition, and that the Liberal Democrats are taking measures to increase transparency and competition in generation. He emphasised the effect government measures have had on energy bills, which, according to a recent report have saved the consumer £65 in the last year, through things like the Energy Company Obligation. He finished by speaking about the upcoming publication of a Fuel Poverty Strategy and how fuel poverty should be an all government approach.

Report by Sam Fowkes

Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference 2013: Health and housing: together again?

16 September 2013

‘Health and housing: together again?’

Hosted in partnership with the Northern Housing Consortium


Charlotte Harrison, Northern Housing Consortium
Rt Hon Paul Burstow MP
Mike Farrar, NHS Confederation

Chair: David Brindle, The Guardian

This CentreForum fringe meeting, in partnership with the Northern Housing Consortium sought to address what challenges the respective areas of health and housing are facing at a time of significant reform in both sectors, and to determine if these challenges can best be met by the two sectors working with each other. 

Charlotte Harrison started off by suggesting that due to recent reforms in both housing and health, it is a great opportunity for the two sectors to work together. The Northern Housing Consortium has recently released a report to help the housing sector understand the current changes and what steps they can take. She claimed that there was a lack of clarity in the housing sector in regards to aims and that they should try and put themselves into the shoes of their counterparts in health. She cited the example of Holton housing trust who are working well with their local health and well being board. She then spelt out four issues that housing and health have to address: firstly, a chronic fuel poverty issue that sees family struggling to meet bills even in the summer, secondly, poor child nutrition, because of a squeeze on family finances, the third issue was stress and depression which recent research have shown are on the increase and finally, the challenges to adjusting to a rapidly aging society.

Mike Farrar of the NHS Confederation pointed to the importance of big data in determining how to manage increasing spending on welfare and health, but that there’s a potential issue of how to move the funds from healthcare to wider health and welfare functions. He then went on to speak of a flaw in the system of aids and adaptation provision, stating that these are generally only provided in crisis, but if they were provided earlier they could help people avert crisis and preserve their independence. Lastly he asked why Health and Housing are separated when the benefits of having them together are so obvious, and spoke of the challenge of re-uniting them, saying that if those in the two areas see power as a finite resource the result will be failure as the two areas fight to retain their power, however, when they see power as infinite, positive results follow as a realisation follows that they will have more power together than when they are apart.

Paul Burstow MP started by saying that this topic combines many of his passions: mental health, residential care and adapting to an aging society. He spoke of his pride in returning health to local government and creating local health and well being boards, before moving onto issues surrounding an aging society, addressing the issue of how the debate around the housing market is conducted in an ageist manner, portraying older people as under-occupying houses, when in reality they have no alternative, stressing the massive shortage in housing suitable for older people in London, where a shortage over hundreds of thousands of units exists. He closed by saying that the Care and Support White Paper recognised that health and housing are linked and that we have a real opportunity to link these services now, as well as endorsing a recent CentreForum publication calling for an Older People’s Commissioner.

Report by Sam Fowkes

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