Why I went “mental” at Oliver Letwin, MP

“Anger is a fuel. Anger is meant to be listened to, Anger is a voice, a shout, a plea, a demand. Anger is meant to be respected. Why? Because Anger is a map. Anger shows us where our boundaries are. It lets us see where we have been and let’s us know where we want to go. Anger points the way, not the finger. Anger is meant to be acted upon, not acted out.” Julia Cameron, 1993.

On Wednesday 20th January 2016, I attended an evening featuring a keynote speech by Mr Oliver Letwin, MP for Dorset West, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and responsible for the oversight of the Cabinet Office. I decided to use the opportunity to once again raise the call for mental health.


The event, hosted by Tory-funded ‘liberal conservative pressure group’ Bright Blue, was billed as a discussion focussing on “Opportunity For All”. When booking my tickets, I assumed (correctly) that the event was likely to involve examples of how the government was working to ensure equal opportunities for all people regardless of background. This was undoubtedly organised as a way of winning over middle ground voters, and maybe even as part of an effort to clean up Mr Letwin’s recently marred public image.

Ideology first

The 45 minute speech on conservative ideals was an eye opener to me, as I had never heard it straight from the source. If you aren’t aware, the concept is that we should all be striving to write the “story of our own lives” and that no-one should be held back from achieving their dreams and thus we “liberate the human spirit”. I agree, working hard and being ambitious is awesome, however, I find it even more liberating when I am also conscious to the many incredible “stories” being written around me, and indeed the greater story that we play a small part of. Conservatism, I discovered, is a little too ego-centric for my liking. I guess that makes me “left-leaning”?

Oliver Letwin speech

Takin’ it to the man

After this speech, I was the first of the audience to raise my hand to ask a question. I put it to Mr Letwin that the government was failing to deal with our rising mental health issues. Despite the government’s numerous promises for increased investment, all the evidence (below) is showing us that vital funding and support is not being made available to mental health services on the NHS, and that these issues are being largely neglected. That combined with the fact that the government has now stopped publishing how much it spends and where this spend is allocated (information only accessible via Freedom of Information requests), means it is now even harder to hold the government to account, when it shouldn’t be.

Mr Letwin replied typically (and disappointingly) by heralding all the great achievements done in the past for addressing mental health, and that there was still a lot more to do. You can listen to the full exchange here.

What is actually happening…

The ideas of “big society” and “opportunity for all” are noble, however they can only work in practice when we all have the same access to basic and necessary healthcare. After 6 years of Conservative led government, the signs are bleak where our NHS is concerned. Indeed, when telling us to focus on our individualistic aspirations, one has to ask where a collectivist institution like the NHS fits? Is that why we are seeing increasingly more of it sold off and privatised?

Just some of the depressing facts about our collective state of mental health:

  • The number of people becoming so ill they had to be detained under the Mental Health Act leapt by 10% in the past year.
  • The number of children being treated on adult mental health wards – something that the Mental Health Act rightly says should not happen at all – rose again in 2015.
  • Suicide is the highest it has been since 2001.
  • We are in the midst of a psychiatry recruitment crisis: there has been a 94% increase in vacant and unfilled consultant posts.

What the government is (or not) doing:

  • Government has pledged to spend £600million in mental health services. However, that is only a returning on spending levels we had in 2010.
  • NHS trusts’ income for mental health services has actually dropped by 8.25% in real terms over past five years.

  • The Government committed to £250m on child and adolescent mental health services or CAMHS for 2015/16, but the Government has admitted there will be a £77m shortfall on what they have pledged.

  • In 2014/15 funding for mental health trusts was cut by 20% more than that for other hospitals.
  • A King’s Fund report published in November 2015 found that just 14% of people felt that they received appropriate care in a crisis.

There is even mounting evidence that government policy is harming our collective mental health:

  • The Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health recently concluded that the programme of reassessing people on disability benefits using the Work Capability Assessment was independently associated with an increase in suicides, self-reported mental health problems and antidepressant prescribing.
  • 83% of people surveyed by the charity, Mind, reported that the Work Programme made their mental health condition worse.
  • The latest statistics reveal that less than 9% of people with mental health problems receiving Employment and Support Allowance have been helped into a job by the Work Programme.

I was also very saddened to read just yesterday the miserable story about Frances McCormack, the latest to take her own life after the added pressures brought about by the government’s controversial “bedroom tax”.

The I Newspaper

Accountability (lack of)

Lack of accountability is also a big problem: we still have no clarity on the promised government spending. In fact you have to use a Freedom of Information request to find out how much Clinical Commissioning Groups were allocating to mental health. The findings are alarming: 67% of CCGs spent less than 10% of their budget on mental health. This is despite mental health accounting for 23% of the total burden of disease.

In 2011/12 total investment in mental health dropped for the first time in a decade. Perhaps unsurprisingly, that same year the Government stopped publishing how much it invests in mental health.

It simply is not good enough. One has to wonder at what point will this government start taking our health seriously.


My question to you: Can individualistic/ capitalistic ideologies work when managing the public sector industries, like our National Health Service, where our quality of healthcare, safety and well-being (not profit) is the “bottom line”?

The latest results of a poll I started on YouGov:


I look forward to reading your comments below.


Why I ran from Heathrow to Central London

Jamie runs through London

Choose inspiration

The familiar and uncomfortable jingle of my alarm woke me in the darkness. I turned toward the ringing, the glare of the phone burning my eyes as I navigated the blurry screen to kill the alarm. I was then aware of an even less comforting sensation, the sound of the wind and hale lashing against my window. It was 6am on a Sunday morning, and I had a long journey to make.

  Two days previously I had agreed to meet a complete stranger at London Heathrow on this particular morning. We were going to run from Terminal 5 to central London together in aid of CALM. Whilst I lay in the cool, darkness, shrouded in the warmth of my double duvet, my mind began it’s internal dialogue of self-motivation:

“No way… not in this weather. It’s a 3 hour journey until the run, who would blame me?”

“He has just run from Canada to Argentina.”

“Maybe he’ll cancel because of the weather?”

“He’s run 17,000km through snowy mountain ranges and dry desert heat, he won’t cancel.”

“It won’t make any difference me not being there?”

“It will make every difference by being there.”

  Thankfully, 4 hours later I joined a team of supporters waiting for Jamie in Costa coffee facing arrivals in the terminal. It soon became clear that I was the only weirdo who didn’t know Jamie, but had responded to his call through the CALM Twitter feed. Everyone else there was family and/or friends. Never-the-less I was part of the team, and the guys warmly welcomed me as part of the group.

Jamie is running at Heathrow

  After a few photos, and tactical applications of Vaseline, we set off. Having navigated our escape from Heathrow, it wasn’t long before the 9 of us settled into a easy pace, steady enough to maintain conversation and enjoy the run. It also didn’t take long for me and Jamie to connect and I began to pick his brain. There was a lot I expected and hoped I would learn from him, given he was so fresh from his life-changing experience.

  In fact, it was an honour to learn that, on the very final stretch of his expedition, Jamie and I shared some very similar ideals, outlooks and conclusions on life. One of which I have decided to share with you as my first blog post…

The 3 things we need to be happy in a job (as he told me):

  1. A dream
  2. Motivation
  3. Inspiration

And that is what we explored on the run. What it is to inspire and genuinely feel inspired. Like most great things in life, inspiration seems to be an energy that flows both ways.

  Whatever it is you do for a living, wherever you live and what ever money you have, you have the ability to inspire others. In turn the reality of knowing you inspire others, pushes you on further. By running from Vancouver to Buenos Aires, Jamie inspired me not just to get out of bed that morning, but to get back out and into running. After hearing his stories, I know that I am also inspired to consider travelling again. Equally, Jamie’s life has certainly changed forever. Knowing how much he has achieved and how far he’s come, especially given the praise and astonishment from the perspective of us lowly desk-dwellers, he isn’t likely to be satisfied with coming home and settling back into “normal life”; he is now inspired to do more, see more and experience more adventures.

British Forrest Gump

  We know that running is only a good thing for us, aside from the obvious health benefits, runners also experience the rush of endorphins that flood our receptors causing natural feelings of euphoria. As a runner, you also get to see, feel, hear and even smell everything that makes up the place you are running through. You are free from the burden of queues and traffic fumes. It is time you invest on yourself, physically and mentally. Good deeds, bring only more good deeds.

  It is actually all very easy, something which Jamie said was a big point he wanted to make when telling people about his adventures. Anyone can do anything amazing, and running IS amazing. The world can never get enough inspiration, we need it to get through each and every day. Once you get into the habit of inspiring others, it becomes a bit of an addiction, makes getting out of bed a necessity 😉

The benefits of doing something awesome amount to so much more than the cash donated to your chosen charity (Jamie has raised over an amazing £17K for CALM, Macmillan and WaterAid so far). By pushing yourself to achieve your dream, you inspire yourself and others to do the same. The buzz from which changes your perspective permanently, and leaves lasting memories for you to be proud of.

What is life worth if not to be inspired by it? And if you haven’t found your passion, or means of inspiration, then all the more reason to go looking for it. Why not?

Jamie runs through London

You can read Jamie’s full blog here. Stay tuned for the book 😉