Treating workers as humans

We see so many working people being treated poorly these days that it’s come to be almost accepted that our fellow human beings, who happen to be employees, are simply expendable and worthy of little care. And I say that as an active trade unionist throughout my whole working life (1975 – 2017) where, in general, I saw working conditions getting worse rather than better.

The only thing that seems to matter these days is the production of whatever form of widgets you can imagine; greater and greater efficiency is the ever strived-for goal but at what cost? Mental health issues are at very significant levels and often the root cause can/will be working conditions, pressure at work, unreasonable production goals, and no time to consider that humans can only be pushed so far before they literally break down. Indeed, I fear that in times of raised unemployment some companies will push their employees past the brink as they don’t care and there’s always someone else who can fill the position of the person they’re in the process of breaking.

The gig economy is leading to huge and unacceptable exploitation of workers with governments and indeed trade unions across western economies struggling to bring this out of control sector to heel. But many mainstream companies, in trying to survive, are pushing their greatest assets to and past the brink. The NHS, poorly resourced as it is for mental health, has to try to pick up the pieces.

The latest mental (and of course physical) health crisis associated with employment is the pandemic we are presently living through. People working from home in inappropriate/inadequate conditions will take a toll on some workers, whilst yes some will find the situation liberating if they have the right conditions to be able to work at home. Generally, the poorer the worker is then the worse it will be trying to convert living space, which may well be scarce anyway, into a workspace. But what about when the pandemic is easing and workers are being pulled back to their traditional workspaces in offices often miles away and a public transport ride from their homes.

Isn’t bringing someone who has been working at home for say 15 or more months akin to bringing back an employee into a workplace who has been on long-term sick leave? Do employers realise that it’s probably not a good idea just to pull a lever and say ‘you’re back in the office next Monday’? Significant management skills are required to sensitively look after staff who are home-working and more again to identify those who will struggle to return to an office environment. The larger the company the more they should be able to ensure their managers, at all levels, are trained and able to help their staff members.

I’ve often felt that government should be leading the way as a massive employer of workers. It should be promoting the best practices and it should certainly not be contracting out work to companies unwilling to uphold similar high standards. Trouble is, at least in the civil service, that’s how things used to be and I started work at the tail end of such good practice. Sadly, I saw how government relinquished its moral responsibility with regard to best employment practices is it went through many years and counting of trying to get its work done at the lowest possible cost and bugger the consequences. And this process has run through governments of all colours I might add.

So, the reality is that government now, in effect, promotes very poor employment practices and even seems to be involved with dubious companies who may be working to undermine our tax system via National Insurance and tax dodging! With such leadership is there any wonder that looking after a company’s most important asset, the people who work for it, becomes a non-priority?

How long will it be before employers realise that treating employees poorly leads to poor outputs and treating them well has the opposite effect? It may take full employment before that lesson is learned by some companies (their staff will walk) but government can and should be leading the way rather than helping to create an explosion of workplace mental health issues!

Norman

Some years ago I heard Michael Palin being described as ‘the nicest man in England’ and he may well have been given an award to that effect. At the time I thought yes I can see that, you can’t think of Palin doing anything but good.

But in politics few people are thought of as being nice, yet one man stands out for me – Norman Lamb MP. Now don’t get me wrong, like many other Remainers, I have struggled with Norman’s struggles over whether he would back a Brexit Deal. His agonising over Johnson’s deal, which from an economic assessment perspective was worse even than May’s deal, befuddled many of us. Why on earth was Norman drawn to the deal in any way? Sadly, some folks frustration with this lovely man boiled over and things were said about him which clearly hurt.

We say we want MP’s who are independent thinkers and who don’t just slavishly follow the party line but when we then see such MP’s in action, particularly when they are drawn to supporting/not supporting a cause which means a lot to us, we get upset.

Former Lib Dem MP for Southport John Pugh

Locally, the former MP for Southport John Pugh could be said to have approached his time in politics with an independent mind and at times he caused frustration in Liberal ranks for that independence of mind. The problem with being a Liberal MP is that Lib Dem supporters expect those MP’s to have libertarian views about every subject, but of course we are all flawed so sometimes a Liberal MP will come up with a stance which makes other Liberals stand up and shout at them.

But back to Norman Lamb because other than his agonising over Brexit deals which virtually no other Liberal could get their head around he really is the kind of person anyone would want for their MP. His work to raise the profile of metal health issues whilst being an MP has been tremendous and it’s clearly such a big matter to him that he will be continuing to campaign for those less fortunate after he steps down from Parliament at the December General Election. Indeed, he’s already set up a mental health charitable trust primed with a significant amount of his own money to get it going.

I met Norman when he visited Liverpool in 2017 and he really is the kind of person who has time to talk with people. He’s pictured above with my daughter Jen. Here’s a link back to my previous posting about that visit to Liverpool:-

tonyrobertson.mycouncillor.org.uk/2017/10/21/norman-lamb-the-mp-who-gives-voice-to-mental-health-issues/

MP’s like Norman are sadly few and far between with so many of them being sheep following the crowd and/or their party. What we need are more independently minded MP’s who despite driving us mad when they, in our view, go off the rails on a particular matter are actually sound, decent and will stick two fingers up to the political charlatans rather than fall in behind them.

Norman Lamb MP

By the way what is Palin’s flaw, he must have one?

PS. I’m presently Reading Palin’s 2018 book ‘Erebus – the story of a ship’, it is as you might expect a great read.

It’s time to give a **** about mental illness

www.normanlamb.org.uk/norman_lamb_swears_to_take_on_mental_illness

The story is Lib Dem MP Norman lamb’s web site – see link above

Norman Lamb MP

I think it fair to say that I don’t see eye to eye with Norman over some things but on this subject he is spot on and always has been.

The lack of significant progress fast enough to transform mental health care treatment is inexcusable so I am more than happy to back the stance being taken by Norman and fellow MP’s across the political spectrum.

With thanks to Jen Robertson for the lead to this posting

Taking mental health issues seriously? Jen Robertson’s guest posting

Looking at the news you’d be forgiven for assuming that the House of Commons debated nothing but Syria and terrorism recently, of course that’s not actually the case. One item I found of particular interest was the issue of out of area placements in mental health raised by Norman Lamb. Norman himself has a fantastic record of campaigning for mental health to be taken as seriously as physical health problems are, and indeed his work in this area was one of the things that led to my decision to vote for him in the leadership elections. The issue he raised was the horrific practice whereby those in need of mental health (sometimes including children) care are sometimes sent hundreds of miles away from their homes and families due to a lack of available facilities in their local area.

Norman was fantastic on the subject, as ever. I admit his rhetoric isn’t as good as Tim’s, he seems less likely to ever deliver a speech that could bring a room to it’s feet for his oratory rather than it’s content, but his tireless pursual of mental health issues is wonderful. It’s clear the issue means a lot to him and it is also clear that this is a man who does his research and is far more interested in seeking solutions than in placing blame, something sadly not common enough in politics.

Debate video and transcripts can be found here:

www.parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/ad0175ac-dbfd-419f-b04d-75da804110f4 (play from about 14:12pm)

www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201516/cmhansrd/cm151203/debtext/151203-0003.htm (starts partway down the page, just look for Norman’s name)

What really struck me in this debate though was how sparsely it was attended. I was disappointed more of our own didn’t attend, only Norman, Mark Williams and Tom Brake were present, but attendance was even worse for all the other parties. There were a fair handful of Tories present and those that spoke on the issue did so well and respectfully, albeit very briefly, making relevant points and agreeing with Norman’s. The Labour benches (as you can see in this photo) were deserted.

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So much for this:

www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/jeremy-corbyn-creates-new-dedicated-minister-for-mental-health-in-his-shadow-cabinet-10500075.html

Mr Corbyn and his party have a funny way of demonstrating their interest in, and commitment to, mental heath issues. I understand this wasn’t a major debate but it IS an important issue and when you have 232 MPs it shouldn’t be that difficult to find at least one person willing to show up!

The other parties were as far as I can tell (as in I watched the whole debate and couldn’t see evidence of them anywhere unless they’d got lost and sat down amongst the Tories) all notably absent too. I admit to being unsure if the issue is a relevant one in Scotland – if not perhaps the SNP can be excused their non-attendance, but if that is not the case then I’d argue they too have quite enough MPs to find someone to attend! The same excuse might I suppose be offered for the Northern Ireland MPs, I don’t know if they are affected by this issue or not. For the smaller English parties I do understand that a limited number of MPs inevitably means you will not be able to have a presence in the House at all debates, but it does show that this doesn’t seem to have been deemed much of a priority for any of them. Perhaps epitomising perfectly the struggle mental health issues have to achieve parity of esteem and even notice amongst politicians and public alike.

The problem in the debate didn’t lie in any of what was being expressed in the chamber but the fact that more than 90% of it’s members had so little interest in it that they didn’t even show up. How will this important issue ever truly progress without greater support?

Mental Health – Always the poor relation but recovery rates in Sefton are very poor indeed

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/liverpools-depression-recovery-rate-below-10132227

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The Liverpool Echo has the story – see link above.

Very worrying stats generally but South Sefton seems to be rock bottom on Merseyside for recovery from mental illness. Glad to say the Lib Dems have been pushing hard for mental health to be given the same recognition and funding levels within the NHS and indeed within Government policy as physical health.

Lib Dems – Cash pledge for mental health

Danny Alexander has said extra funding to improve children’s mental health services will be announced in this week’s budget, aimed at early intervention programmes to stop youngsters from developing serious and potentially fatal mental health conditions.

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The package will also include a doubling of cash for the treatment of armed forces veterans. Peter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC, said: “The rising number of children who contact ChildLine because they have mental health issues is deeply disturbing – and just as worrying is the lack of services to help them.” He warned that “we risk leaving a generation on the brink of despair”

The Times says the announcement is a major boost for its Time To Mind campaign, supported by politicians, business chiefs and show business stars. Alan Johnson, the former health secretary, backs the Times campaign in a separate piece for the paper where he says has made the provision of emergency hospital beds for adolescents with life-threatening mental health issues a personal political priority.

The Times newspaper covered this story

With thanks to the LGiU for the lead to this story.