The government will only carry out a race impact assessment on its proposed amendments to the Mental Health Act 1983 and not the full act, despite a request from the Commission for Racial Equality to do both.
The Department of Health believes it is already taking comparable action with its Delivering Race Equality programme, a five-year scheme launched in 2005 to tackle mental health inequalities.
And it says it will update the act’s code of practice to reflect the duty to promote race equality in the Race Relations Amendment Act 2000.
A CRE spokesperson said it had written to the DH asking for a race impact assessment on the act and amendments.
The spokesperson added: “All aspects of legislation or policy developments require a rigorous and robust assessment to ensure that there are no adverse effects on members of any community.”
Campaigners believe that, under the 1983 act, black men are far more likely to be sectioned than the rest of the population, and argue that to tackle such inequalities the act as well as the amendments must be assessed.
A Healthcare Commission report last year found black people were three times more likely to be admitted to mental health hospitals and 44 per cent more likely to be sectioned.
The Mental Health Alliance, a coalition of groups seeking better mental health legislation, also called for a full assessment.
Rethink chief executive and alliance member Cliff Prior told the all-party parliamentary group on mental health this week that the government’s decision to amend the current act rather than introduce a new mental health bill made a full race assessment “an absolute necessity”.
He said the government must also make a commitment to act on whatever an assessment recommended.
Matilda MacAttram, director of Independent Race Relations Health Consultancy, said it was “undeniable” that the 1983 act was discriminatory.
She said it would be a “betrayal” of the commitments made by the government to tackle race inequality following the inquiry into the death of David Bennett, which reported in February 2004, if a full assessment was not carried out.
She added: “What we have to see are principles on the face of the act so race equality is enshrined in law.”
The CRE, the Healthcare Commission and the Mental Health Act Commission are currently investigating how well the government is progressing in tackling inequalities in the mental health system.