Thank you, Mr Speaker. I would also like to thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing this debate.
I’ve got a new member of staff in the Commons, Matthew van Rooyen. He’s 18 going on 28. Cool, calm and I have only seen him panic when he lost his hair gel. And, by an amazing coincidence, he’s from the village where I was born: Kenfig Hill. And what’s more amazing is that I used to do judo with his mother when I was a child. I have told you before, Mr Speaker, Wales is one big family, which has its advantages and disadvantages. So, this is Matthew’s maiden speech.
Matthew van Rooyen is, in fact, a Member of the Youth Parliament himself and has been elected, by fellow Welsh Youth Parliamentarians, to represent Wales at the Youth Parliament sitting in this Chamber on 11th November. The calibre of the debate is always exceptionally high. At times, Mr Speaker, higher some of our debates. I would urge all Honourable and Right Honourable Members to attend to show their support to the UK Youth Parliament.
By way of some background, each year the UK Youth Parliament holds a UK-wide ballot called Make Your Mark, that allows for young people to vote to campaign on an issue that is most important to them. The five campaigns with the most votes are then debated by Members of the Youth Parliament (MYPs) at their annual sitting in this Chamber. Mr Speaker, I have been asked to thank you for allowing this opportunity year after year. In 2014, more than 90,000 votes were cast, specifically to campaign for the improvement of mental health services. Following debate, the Youth Parliament voted to campaign on mental health services as its priority campaign. The Youth Parliament Select Committee subsequently launched an inquiry into mental health provision, publishing its report in November 2016. Today, this Report comes before this House for debate.
What this report indicates, quite simply, is that there is a lack of full and proper support for young people with mental health issues. With nearly 850,000 people aged between five and sixteen suffering from a mental health issue, there is clearly a real need for good quality, mental health provision. The fact that over 90,000 young people voted for this as their priority campaign is indicative that the standard of service provided falls far shorter than the standard of service that can be expected.
Mr Speaker, it is not even the case that the service provided is good but young people expect excellent; they deserve excellent. It is the case that the service is simply sub-standard. In written evidence to the Committee submitted by Wiltshire Youth Parliament Members, one young person explained their frustration, I quote: “After a lot of deliberation, I decided to take myself to my GP in search of support. What you must remember is the amount of courage it takes to open up about your mental health issues. It is extremely difficult for someone who’s totally confused about what’s going on in their life, to openly talk about having suicidal feelings in a five minute appointment to someone who feels like a complete stranger. This landed me in a vicious cycle. I ended up returning to different GPs, in a desperate cry for help, but time and time again I was refused any help. It took 7 visits before I eventually got the support I needed. 7 times I had to retell that same story, 7 times I was faced with not being “sick enough” and 7 times I had to walk out of that same GP surgery feeling absolutely crushed and demoralised.” Mr Speaker, this young person is only 14 years old.
The stories from young people up and down the country of substandard interactions with their GPs and medical practitioners are many. With countless witness testimonies, this report highlights the many areas where improvements need to be made with regard to the medical profession and health services. I would welcome an update from the Minister as to what stage these are at, when she responds later.
But, Mr Speaker, there is not one single area that needs improvement. To improve the overall state of services for those suffering with mental health issues. We must also look at the education system and what role this has to play in improving young people’s mental health.
The report, very thoroughly, covers the education curriculum, and suggests improvements to the personal, social, health and economics (PSHE) education, which would provide the most effective environment for mental health education. These, Mr Speaker, I broadly endorse. A key issue that has been raised time and time again by the Youth Parliament is the need for a curriculum for life, to meet the needs of young people, in having a national curriculum that sets them up to succeed, and not fail. This issue is so fundamental to young people, that it received the most votes in the Make Your Mark ballot this year.
In the local authority area of Neath Port Talbot, in which my constituency of Neath is encompassed, around 2,300 young people took part in this year’s ballot, and I look forward to working with the Neath Port Talbot MYP (Member of Youth Parliament) further over the coming year.
Returning to the report, the findings of the Youth Select Committee make quite clear the need for an all-encompassing approach to improving mental health and wellbeing. Whilst the Department for Education has introduced character building and resilience programmes, the Report notes that this is not the best method to improving the wellbeing of young people, and instead proposes further training for teachers and academic staff. Whilst taking evidence, the Report specifically mentions that teachers feel that they, I quote: “need more regular training on how we promote positive mental health”. The recommendation by the Youth Select Committee is that, as part of the core content of Initial Teacher Training, there should be mandatory training for teachers on young people’s mental health, with the training focussed on how to respond to a young person who asks about mental health, how to spot problems and where to refer young people. The Committee goes on to recommend the inclusion of a trained counsellor in all schools, and agrees that schools should make counselling services available to all secondary school pupils. These, Mr Speaker, are recommendations that I am sure every reasonable Member of this House can endorse.
Mr Speaker, today’s debate has highlighted the vitally important work done by the UK Youth Parliament, the British Youth Council, and the Youth Select Committee – all of whom I commend in assisting young people to have their voices heard. In recent times, there have been multiple Reports and initiatives to improve mental health services for young people, aiming to reach parity of esteem. But, until equal funding is achieved for physical health and mental health provision for young people, and where funding for adult heath care is at least equal to funding for young peoples’ health care, the campaign will go on. Young people are the future. It is our duty to ensure their success and wellbeing.