Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Government ignores calls to reform ‘outdated’ mental health laws

The learning disability charity Mencap says the government has “missed a huge opportunity” after King Charles made no mention of reforming ‘outdated’ mental health laws in his speech earlier this morning (7th November).

This comes following a campaign led by representatives from the National Autistic Society and Mencap, in which an open letter signed by 18,234 people was delivered to Downing Street.

The letter called on the government to make the Mental Health Act Bill a law so that autistic people and people with learning disabilities can no longer be detailed under the Mental Health Act solely on the basis of having a learning disability or autism.

The charities also want to ensure there is a strong duty to provide community services to autistic people and people with a learning disability, and that recommendations from Care, Education and Treatment Review actions are made enforceable, so people can be discharged from hospitals sooner.

Did the King’s Speech make any reference to mental health laws?

The Speech marks the start of the parliamentary year and is written by the government, providing Ministers with an opportunity to outline the government’s priorities for the months ahead.

This is first speech King Charles has delivered to Parliament as monarch following the Queen’s death.

In his speech, the King announced that the government plans to invest at least £2.3 billion of additional funding for mental health support per year, but there was no mention of making the Mental Health Bill law.

Plans to update the 40-year-old legislation were a Conservative manifesto commitment in 2019, but despite this, the Bill is still in draft form.

“Countless more autistic lives will be claimed”

The National Autistic Society says the government has “chosen to ignore” calls from more than 18,000 people who signed their open letter.

National Autistic Society Young Ambassador and mental health advocate, Zaynab Yasin Sohawon, says the government’s failure to commit to this legislation means “countless more autistic lives will be claimed.”

“We deserve human rights, but the government has chosen to ignore our voices and delay this crucial change,” said Ms Sohawon.

Mencap says failing to mention mental health law reforms is a “devastating blow to thousands of people with a learning disability and autistic people, their families and campaigners,” and leaves “thousands of families and their loved ones in limbo.”

A ‘huge blow’ for the community

The mental health charity Mind is now concerned that the Mental Health Act will not be reformed before the next general election.

A spokesperson from the charity said: “Including the Mental Health Bill in the King’s Speech would have been a chance to improve how the system works when people are in mental health crisis. But that chance has been missed.

“There couldn’t be a worse time to abandon this bill, given the recent string of exposes that have showed how unsafe many mental health hospitals are across the country.”

Mind has described the omission as a “waste” and says that individuals with mental health problems and their families “deserve more than lip service from the politicians who are supposed to represent us.”

“This is a huge blow for our community, but we will keep fighting to raise the standard of mental health hospitals,” the spokesperson said.

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