Luciana Berger: ‘If you don’t support people with mental illnesses they are more likely to develop a physical illness too.’ Photograph: Martin Godwin for the Guardian

This Blog has issues with Luciana Berger. She was one of the many Labour MPs who walked away from the first vote on the Welfare Reform and Work Bill – basically just standing aside to let it happen – in July.

She has no real understanding of the problems facing working-class people – her only employment was for management consultancy Accenture, advising FTSE 100 companies including Barclays and BP, as well as the London Stock Exchange, before becoming MP for Liverpool Waverley in 2010 amid accusations that the then-neoliberal New Labour leadership had ‘parachuted’ her in as candidate.

That being said, her intentions as shadow minister for mental health seem good, and it is to be hoped that her strategy is right.

Your observations on this are invited.

The term crisis has been used so frequently about mental health services of late that it would be easy to brush off her use of it as a headline-grabbing exercise. However there’s no shortage of service users who would attest that, in light of ongoing cuts, beds shortages and evidence that welfare reforms are triggering or exacerbating people’s mental health problems on an unprecedented scale, this time it’s different.

A very significant development is the programme of welfare reforms introduced by Iain Duncan Smith, the secretary of state for work and pensions, says Berger. A recent report from the charity, Mind, found that the Work Programme and the rising threat of sanctions was making people’s mental distress much worse.

“The research shows that the processes the [Department for Work and Pensions ] has brought in are having a detrimental and negative impact on people’s mental health,” she says.

Berger brings up one constituent, Thomas O’Donnell, whose case she raised in parliament last year. Having waited eight months for his Personal Independence Payment to be processed, by the time O’Donnell reached out in desperation to Berger he was suicidal, she recalls. It is precisely this kind of interaction with voters, coupled with hard facts about pressures across a range of mental health services that are motivating her to take the government to task.

If it is mooted that there’s a limit to what a shadow minister can achieve, she counters that she has been grafting to lay bare where the coalition and current government have got it wrong.

Source: Luciana Berger: ‘We have a mental health crisis as the system only focuses on crisis’ | Society | The Guardian

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