The most noticeable aspect of the Lib Dem conference was the emphasis placed on improving mental health standards in the UK.
Deputy Prime Minister and Lib Dem party leader, Rt Hon Nick Clegg MP grabbed headlines when he said, ‘Anxiety, panic attacks, depression, anorexia, bulimia, self-harm, bi-polar disorder – these and many other mental health conditions are one of the last remaining taboos in our society, and yet they will affect one in four people.’ The Deputy Prime Minister’s main focus was on changing attitudes and public perceptions of mental health: ‘I want this to be a country where a young dad chatting at the school gates will feel as comfortable discussing anxiety or depression as the mum who’s explaining how she sprained her ankle.’
The main policy promise announced by Clegg was a reduction in waiting times: ‘if you have depression and you want to access ‘talking therapies’ you should be seen within 6 weeks – 18 weeks max., similar to if you were to have a hip operation.’ Similarly, Clegg also announced that the Lib Dems would invest £120 million pounds into the mental health services over the next 2 years. (Click here for the speech.)
Rt Hon Norman Lamb MP, Minister of State for Care and Support, followed on this theme saying that the Lib Dems were ‘Fighting to end discrimination against mental health. Fighting to stand up for carers. Fighting to build a fairer society.’ Lamb suggests five major changes to mental health services under the Lib Dems, the most significant of which was reducing unemployment as a result of anxiety or depression: ‘we are trialling exciting new approaches to link up Jobcentre Plus with talking therapies. The potential here is enormous to help get people’s lives back on track.’ The Minister for Care and Support also announced ‘a new annual Carers bonus worth £250’ along with a raise in the maximum earning limit for the carers allowance to £110 per week ‘stopping the scandal of carers not even being able to work on the minimum wage for up to 16 hours before losing their benefits.’
Lamb also announced, should the Lib Dems come to power they would introduce a ‘A billion pound transformation fund, over and above inflation, to help the NHS become fit for the future.’ This includes a number of measures such as an emphasis on prevention rather than repair and to instil a culture where ‘the whole NHS and care system has a total focus on achieving the best possible results for patients.’ (Click here for the speech.)
Two other notable speeches were those of Rt Hon Steve Webb MP, Secretary of State for Pensions, and Rt Hon Dr Vince Cable MP, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills. Webb, as with Clegg and Lamb, said that the Lib Dem’s would fight ‘discrimination in the workplace and the jobs market, whether against older workers or people with disabilities.’ Webb also claimed that the Lib Dems had made sure that ‘where cuts had to be made we protected the most vulnerable’. In terms of policy, Steve Webb announced that he would remodel the state pension so that those who were carers for elderly or disabled people for a minimum of at least a year, would be recognised and their contributions of equal value as those in ‘work’. (Click here for the speech.)
Vince Cable was very critical of the Conservative’s in his speech, saying that ‘the Tories are ideologically obsessed by cuts because they see it as a way of destroying public service and the welfare state, which they detest…The Tories’ proposal to take another £25 billion or more out of welfare and unprotected Government departments will do great harm to valuable services: to imagine otherwise is fantasy. I will categorically not go along with this.’ (Click here for the speech.)