Over two hundred (249 in total) Communication Workers Union Conference delegates packed the Tregonwall Hall for the Health, Safety and Environment department and Equal Opportunities Department Joint Fringe Meeting at the CWU’s Annual Conference in Bournemouth on Monday 29th April 2019.

Opening the meeting, CWU NEC Health, Safety and Environment Committee Chair Shelley Banbury introduced CWU Health Safety and Environment National Officer Dave Joyce and Jon Ashworth MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Health.

Jon Ashworth MP is a Labour and Co-operative Party politician who has served as the Member of Parliament for Leicester South since 2011, and is the current Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.

Jon recently said “This NHS crisis also extends to mental health provision, which for too long has remained the Cinderella service of the NHS – undervalued and underfunded.  That’s why Labour will substantially increase spending on mental health and deliver a world-class mental health service.”

Shelley also introduced Steve Jones who is chair CWU Mental Health Strategy Group. Steve said he had met Jon at Labour Party conference after he spoke in the mental health debate and was impressed when Jon said he will “not just talk about this, we will do it”. Steve then showed the new CWU video detailing personal experiences and accounts of CWU members of their own mental ill-health, called “It’s time to talk”. This was well-received.

Dave Joyce then spoke about the CWU and the Union’s Mental Health Strategy and he referred to the  Government commissioned Stephenson/Farmer report which stated that 300,000 people with mental health issues had lost their jobs Dave said it was a good report with positive recommendations which the Tory Government accepted but had done nothing to implement since it was published 18 Months ago..

Jon Ashworth thanked the CWU for the kind invitation who he said are one of the great trade unions affiliated to the Labour Party and he praised the work of Steve Jones on Mental Health and General Secretary Dave Ward for his leadership. Jon congratulated CWU members for their propositions, campaigning and for speaking out on the Mental Health issue.

Jon said that we have to make mental health a priority for a Labour Government and he also mentioned the relevance of Workers Memorial Day to Mental Health. He spoke about his personal experiences in his family with alcohol dependence and how he had run the London marathon on Sunday 28 April (the day before the fringe meeting) to raise £5,000 for a charity dealing with this issue.

Jon went on to talk about the crisis in the NHS caused by austerity policies of the Tory Government. “We’ve lost thousands of Mental Health nurses and hospital beds and have the lowest number of child psychiatrists in Europe. A quarter of children with Mental Health conditions are turned away because of austerity imposed on the NHS and children are sent hundreds of miles to receive treatment.”

Jon said “there were 16 million people living in poverty, 5,000 sleeping on the streets so it was no surprise that Mental Health problems are increasing.”

Jon added “Labour would end Tory privatisation of the NHS and would bring outsourced contracts back in-house.”

He went on to add “we need a proper NHS in line with Nye Bevan’s vision when he set it up.  The creation of the NHS was about equality and his commitment was to tackle inequalities.”

The CWU General Secretary Dave ward then spoke and praised Jon’s contributions and he asked delegates to watch Jon’s podcasts where he relates personal experiences. The GS said that “we need Labour in power to improve the life chances of working people and a radical approach was never more needed than now. The rise in inequality needs challenging and we need to get Labour elected.”

Shelley then opened the meeting up to questions.

Question 1: A motion at conference called for joined up strategy on Mental Health but no mention of “Time to Talk” and Royal Mail managers lacked knowledge about the Royal Mail strategy.

Answer:  Dave Joyce said “there was an agreed 5 year strategy in Royal Mail, CWU was responsible for pressing the employer to bring that about and instrumental in influencing the direction of it and the Union continues to work with Royal Mail on this Mental Health Strategy. He referred to the agreement reached with Royal Mail to train 5,500 physical First Aiders (CWU Members) in Mental Health First Aid plus agreement to train 130 CWU Area Health and Safety Reps on Mental Health First Aid, plus the setting up of 100 plus Mental Health Trained Ambassadors (most being CWU Reps and Members) and he added that 9,000 managers had so far been trained as part of a ‘Mandatory’ Training Programme. Dave then went on to give an update progress report on the CWU Mental Health Strategy which included  a planned national event in Manchester later this year, discussions with leading Mental Health charities to establish working support partnerships with MH experts, developing a CWU Reps National Mental Health First Aid Training Programme, Training CWU/HQ staff, setting up a programme to train CWU MHFA trainers, working with CWU Comms to set up a dedicated CWU Mental Health web page with information, help, assistance and resources, developing a communications strategy to maximise penetration of the campaign and reach out to CWU Reps and Members nationwide, and there would shortly be a first ever training course for employees of the CWU at HQ, training the people who take calls from members and Reps seeking help.

Question 2:  Labour need to invest on a joint strategy with education which needs to be in the Labour Party manifesto.

Answer:  Jon said there would be more investment in schools on this.

Question 3:  Is anything in place to thwart Trumps state visit to UK.

Answer: Jon said we shouldn’t be rolling out the red carpet for Trump and the NHS must not be put up for sale to the USA.

Question 4: Jon must not just make promises and speak fine words but must do something when Labour gets into power. These are real issues and affect our own families and colleagues.

Question 5: A personal friend was found hanged in his garage; there were no funds available for people who have Mental Health conditions who use sign language. Need to look at disabilities that contribute to Mental Health.

Answer to 4 and 5:

These contributions bring home the issues we face on Mental Health, the Status Quo is not an option and the NHS is Health and Wellbeing.

Jon’s parting message was that he “will do his very best and Labour will invest. We have seen what Mental Health problems do to a person and we are going to make Mental Health a priority and we will do all we can to turn this around”.

Shelley Banbury thanked Jon Ashworth for attending and for his inspiring and informative talk to the CWU Health and Safety and Equal Opportunity Joint Fringe meeting.

The Chair closed the meeting by thanking everyone for attending.