The Conservatives will try and fight the next election on ‘culture wars’. We have seen it nationally, and we have seen it locally – they will do anything to avoid taking responsibility for their record on the cost of living crisis and our economy, or the state of our public services after 14 years in power.

Throwing minority groups and other vulnerable people under a bus in an attempt to cling onto power is, therefore, nothing new. Yet, the Prime Minister’s recent attempt to rail against a ‘sick note culture’ sought to blame people who are unwell for political gain, rather than doing the decent and responsible thing by putting forward policies to help address this crisis.

As the Shadow Health Secretary, Wes Streeting, said in response to Rishi Sunak’s typically crass intervention, I don’t think we have a sick note culture and a lazy workforce. We have a sickness problem and a lazy government.

The mental health charity Mind said mental health services were “at breaking point” and described the Prime Minister’s comments as “harmful” and “inaccurate”.

It beggars belief that the Conservative Party think it can solve this crisis by threatening people, but then again, they are the Government that helped create this disaster in the first place.

The latest data shows over 120,000 children are going six months or longer without mental health support, with some being left desperately languishing on waiting lists for almost five years. Long waits for treatment are leading to worse outcomes for patients and piling additional pressure on emergency services. Suicide rates have heartbreakingly soared since 2010, and the number of people being detained under the mental health act is also rising.

The simple truth is that, if we can get people treated and back on their feet rather than stigmatised, they will be healthier, happier and more productive. That is why Labour has a plan to tackle our country’s mental health crisis with 8,500 specially-trained mental health staff, specialist mental health support in every school and an open access early intervention hub in every community, paid for by closing tax loopholes.

We have also pledged to reform the Mental Health Act, a failure of reform the Tories have sat on since commissioning a report on how the act could be improved back in 2017.

When it comes to our local mental health trust, the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT), is still in dire straits.

5,600 people have been on waiting lists at NSFT for over a year. More than 4,000 haven’t had their needs assessed.Thousands of people have suffered mental health-related deaths in Norfolk and Suffolk, tragedies which should never have happened.

This is an unending scandal, and it remains my view that there should be a full and independent public inquiry to deliver justice to bereaved families, and after a decade of failures – with NSFT receiving four ‘inadequate’ ratings – I cannot see how it can possibly continue in its present form after so many years of false dawns and broken promises.

A Labour government will inject resources and reform into NHS mental health services. Locally, we must keep pushing for an inquiry that will give families justice, and help deliver the fundamental change we need to prevent more lives being lost.

When Labour says we are going to give mental health parity with physical health, we mean it. It is not enough to just turn around the shocking figures and waiting lists. We must also completely overhaul the way our country approaches mental health, and give people their lives back.

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