The concerning state of human rights and mental health in the UK

26 September 2016

Far-reaching concerns have been highlighted by the British Institute of Human Rights' joint civil society report across mental health services, the impact of welfare cuts and the protection of children’s rights.

The report forms a part of the universal periodic review process before the UN’s human rights council where all member countries are subject to systematic reviews of their human rights records to improve standards, and address violations. 

Worryingly, the report cautions that a significant number of the 132 recommendations made at the last UN hearing in 2012 had not been met, with numerous mentions of mental health shortcomings flagged. Issues of underfunding mental health services, use of police cells as ‘places of safety’, and widespread concern that legal protections for people with mental capacity issues are neither sufficient, nor fit for purpose.

'The report highlights that recent policy and legislative changes have resulted in deteriorating standards of living.'

Mental health and wellbeing is shaped and supported by the wide-ranging characteristics of the social, economic and physical environments in which we live. The report highlights that recent policy and legislative changes have resulted in deteriorating standards of living as well as hampering the welfare system's capacity to address rates of poverty, homelessness and worklessness.

Our recent report Poverty and mental health outlines how poverty increases the risk of mental health problems as well as being a consequence of mental ill health. Today, 13 million people in the UK live in poverty, demonstrating the sheer scale of the risk to our nation’s mental health, especially for those in vulnerable or lower socioeconomic groups.

The Joint Civil Society report highlights that vulnerable groups have been negatively impacted by the introduction of benefit caps and sanctions, inconsistent housing provision and the increased use of food banks. We echo these concerns as evidence suggests that reductions in income and poor housing can lead to lower well-being and resilience and increased mental health needs.

During the report’s launch, a panel of human rights experts drew keen attention to wider concerns around the rights of children. Unfortunately no group of children are immune with growing mental health problems across the socio-economic scale. Childhood adversity experiences have been shown to account for around a third of future mental ill health and 50% of mental ill health is established by the age of 14 and 75% by the age of 21 . 

Given these statistics and the emerging neuroscientific evidence on the changes in the teenage brain, we know that protecting mental health during these formative years should be prioritised.

Mental health problems are still clustered around groups who face the greatest inequalities through socio-economic factors like those flagged in the report. It is of the utmost importance that the most vulnerable across society are given the support and protection they require, and as a result, we echo the reports concern around the denigration of the Human Rights Act, particularly with respect to protections and support for vulnerable groups.

We urge the government take on recommendations from the report to build upon the Human Rights Act as opposed to repealing it and addressed the flagged issues around protecting and prioritising mental health.

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