Politics

Shadow mental health minister's resignation sends 'worrying message' about Keir Starmer's Labour

The party's shadow mental health minister quit, telling Starmer: "You made clear you do not see a space for a mental health portfolio in a Labour cabinet.”

Labour mental health, Rosena Allin-Khan

It is "crucial" that a possible Labour government treats mental health as a priority, said departing frontbencher Rosena Allin-Khan. Image: Sky News

Labour’s priorities have been branded “worrying” after shadow mental health minister Dr Rosena Allin-Khan resigned from her post, claiming Keir Starmer “does not see a space” for mental health in his cabinet.

The Labour leader “made clear” the role would not be part of a future cabinet, outgoing shadow minister for mental health Rosena Allin-Khan wrote in a resignation letter.

As new polling found 40% of voters said mental health policy would influence how they vote in an upcoming election, and with 1.8 million patients waiting for mental health treatment, Allin-Khan’s resignation prompted a young people’s mental health charity to question the move.

“Young people’s mental health is in crisis – and right now that crisis needs more attention and status, not less,” Tom Madders, director of campaigns at YoungMinds, told the Big Issue. 

“Today’s announcement that the mental health brief will no longer sit in the shadow cabinet sends a worrying message about the priority of the issue within the party.”

In her letter to Starmer, Allin-Khan explained she had quit her role after Starmer said he would be scrapping the cabinet position, and said it was “crucial that the next Labour government treats these areas as a priority.”

The MP for Tooting, who also works as a doctor during parliamentary recesses, reiterated calls for a Labour government to reform the Mental Health Act and the government’s suicide prevention strategy.

The British Medical Association, the trade union representing doctors, said it was “disappointing” the post was being scrapped.

“It’s disappointing to learn that there won’t be a cabinet position for mental health in any future labour govt – it’s vital that the issue is still prioritised,” the union said on Twitter.

The government has a specific minister for mental health – Maria Caulfield – but she does not attend cabinet.

Growing waiting times, coupled with the impact of the cost of living crisis, mean all parties should make mental health a top political priority, said Oliver Chantler, head of policy at Mental Health Foundation.

“Every political party needs to put this issue front and centre. All parts of our lives affect our mental health. That’s why we need a cross-government, long-term plan to protect and sustain the public’s mental health,” said Chantler.

“We need to tackle the root causes of poor mental health, including poverty and discrimination, and prevent problems before they occur.

Alan Simpson, a professor of mental health nursing at King’s College London, said it was vital the party focused on mental health.

“I really hope Labour are going to have major focus on mental health services and mental health more widely. It’s never been needed more,” Simpson wrote on Twitter.

Research by the More in Common thinktank, carried out for Rethink Mental Illness, found the issue could be decisive in the next election. Votes in the Red Wall were particularly likely to be shaped by parties’ mental health policies, reported The Times, while a majority of voters blamed the government for failing services.

Brian Dow, deputy chief executive of Rethink Mental Illness, told the Big Issue the research highlighted the importance of mental health to voters.

“With the mental health brief possibly now sitting with the secretary of state for health and social care Wes Streeting, today’s research shows the public will be keeping a careful eye on the degree to which mental health is prioritised by the Labour party as it attempts to build its case to form the next government,” Dow said.

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Madders praised Labour’s commitments to reducing waiting times, and introducing mental health support teams, but said plans to help young people’s mental health needed cooperation across government.

“To turn things around for young people will require work across government departments,” he said.

“We hope to receive reassurances from the Labour party that this news will not lead to a loss of attention for this growing emergency.”

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