When Jeremy Corbyn, the newly-elected leader of the Labour party, announced the first few major position in the new Shadow Cabinet, the dominance of balding white men set a lot of people to worrying that Corbyn’s revolutionary politics would prove to be all bark and no bite. These fears were largely allayed in the full unveiling of the first majority-female Shadow Cabinet, and one position in particular stood out from the rest; one which people of all political affiliations, and especially students, ought to be excited about.
Luciana Berger, the Labour MP for Liverpool Wavertree, has been elected as the first Shadow Minister for Mental Health, representing a major step forward for the 1 in 4 people in the UK who experience mental health problems every year. Her appointment puts pressure on the Conservative government to follow suit with a Minister for Mental Health of their own, given that, despite insisting that mental health would be a priority for them, they have already broken pledges to increase spending to combat the issue; clinical commissioning groups for the NHS state that only 10% of their funding will contribute to mental health in 2015-2016. We can only hope that Berger, with the support of Corbyn, can help to bring these failures to account.
There are few groups of people who know the shortcomings of the current mental health support system better than students. With an increasingly cut-throat economy looming outside the cosy ivory tower of university, heaped on top of cuts to a number of benefits for young people, students’ stress levels are higher than ever before. The NUS has reported that 20% of students consider themselves to have a mental health problem, and while the NHS is still relatively efficient at providing medication to these students to help them in the short term, counselling treatment is often lacking, requiring many to deal with the underfunded, fractured and bureaucratic Wellbeing Service. The lack of more readily available urgent care is putting a huge strain on universities themselves, with 51% of students using university counselling services.
Corbyn’s appointment of Berger as Minister for Mental Health has made it clear that he takes these shortcomings seriously, and whilst it is unlikely to convince the Conservatives to make a U-turn on cutting the funding for the UK’s most vulnerable, it’s certainly a step in the right direction. Hopefully, this will push the Tories to appoint a corresponding Minister, paving the way to opening up a dialogue between the parties, and, at length, pushing through legislation that will benefit not only students, but everyone affected by mental health issues; the hope that there are people in government who truly do care about the millions of people like me is more than a little bit refreshing.