Letters

    Must it take a tragedy to promote mental
    health?

    Isn’t it a shame that mental health issues only experience such
    a high profile when tragedy occurs (News, page 5, 24 May). We join
    with other mental health service users, carers and professionals in
    expressing our condolences to the family and friends of Sarah
    Lawson. Please let us not lose sight, however, of the fact that,
    although bad practice does exist in some organisations, it would be
    nice if the media also took time to congratulate and affirm the
    good.

    Recent statistics from the Depression Alliance stated that last
    year there were 7,000 suicides, and at least 25,000 attempted
    suicides among younger people. In Cambridge there are more than
    7,000 people with a diagnosis of depression. The cost of
    prescribing anti-depressants during 1999/2000 was the highest for
    all psychiatric drugs with more than £8 million being spent.
    At Addenbrookes Hospital there are more outpatients in mental
    health than any other specialism.

    How is it then that “mental health” did not appear as a high
    priority on our local candidates’ manifestos? There is an ever
    increasing number of people accessing services. For the first time
    in history a much maligned and marginilised section of our society
    (people detained under the Mental Health Act) now have what most
    citizens take for granted – the power of the vote.

    On our behalf, we would like politicians to fight for the right
    to an assessment of our needs, and to the appropriate services
    relevant to our care; improved services, which includes 24-hour
    crisis services and advocacy for all; a range of treatments in
    every area, including psychological and talking treatments as well
    as drugs; and a reduction in compulsory treatment, giving everyone
    subject to compulsory treatment the right to an independent
    advocate.

    Sharon Jones
    Co-ordinator, “Lifeline” Cambridge

    Jeannette Harding
    Service user/information worker, Cambridge

    Foreign staff do not steal British jobs

    I am a South African social worker who came to the United
    Kingdom in January 2000 (News, page 8, 31 May). I have worked as an
    agency worker in several children and families’ teams. Although I’m
    not doing in the UK what I studied for, I get lots of support and
    like working in a team. I get rewarded for what I do and I feel
    appreciated.

    I went home in December 2000 and had no intention of returning
    to the UK. I really missed my family, my own language and the South
    African sunshine. I found a total of three posts to apply for. As a
    fairly newly qualified white South African I didn’t stand a chance
    and my applications were unsuccessful.

    I agree with Dr Zola Skweyiya that South Africa has a shortage
    of social workers (News, page 8, 31 May), but I would like to ask
    him – where are the posts to be found? I won’t mind taking my
    “talent” back to South Africa if I can get a proper job with a
    proper salary.

    The few social workers that are fortunate enough to have jobs in
    South Africa, earn between £250 and £400 per month.
    Although the cost of living in South Africa is slightly cheaper
    than in the UK, I can’t support myself on a salary like that.

    Social workers there study for a BA(SW) degree for four years
    and have to work a lifetime in South Africa to pay back expensive
    student loans. In my opinion that is not fair, since other
    professionals who study just as long earn much higher salaries.

    Most of the social work offices only have two or three social
    workers with no manager on site. Social workers have caseloads of
    more than 100 families each. Resources are limited and social
    workers get little support from management. The areas where
    frontline staff work are very dangerous and therefore social
    workers, mostly women, don’t feel safe.

    I know that poverty in South Africa is very bad and that there’s
    lots of work for social workers. However, the amount of work that
    needs to be done does not match up with the salaries and posts
    available.

    I don’t agree that because we are here British social workers
    are unemployed. Since being here, I have never worked in a fully
    staffed team. Where are those “unemployed” workers?

    Jane Britz
    Essex

    Colonial plunder tag is wide of the mark

    The recruitment of South African social workers by UK agencies
    (News, page 8, 31 May) is not just another example of the rapacious
    developed world looting the resources of a defenceless developing
    country. The facts are, of course, a little more complex.

    Firstly, there is an over-supply of social workers in South
    Africa. Secondly, the salaries are relatively low.

    Faced with these problems, South Africa’s social workers are
    compelled to look elsewhere and where better than the United
    Kingdom where they will earn about ten times more than they do at
    home.

    The idea of redressing the imbalance by UK social care staff
    relocating to South Africa is frankly laughable. Language problems
    aside, the average United Kingdom social care worker would in my
    view be stunned at South African conditions in every respect.

    Chris Manson
    Harrogate


    Men airbrushed out of family portrait

    Your article on family policy in the run-up to the general
    election (“Family fortunes”, 24 May) was illustrated by a
    photograph showing three women and two children, as if men are
    surplus to requirements. Unfortunately this set the tone for what
    follows.

    Your writer seems to have a horror of anything going to those
    dreadful fathers. Thus, we are meant to welcome the abolition by
    New Labour of the married couples allowance – the last recognition
    of marriage left in the fiscal system – because it went to “married
    men on high incomes”.

    Of course, it went to all married couples: the issue here is not
    the income of the person benefiting, but the fact that it might
    have gone to a man.

    Your writer accuses Labour of backing its own “ideological
    preference for the traditional family” by cutting the lone parent
    premium. She doesn’t mention that working families tax credit does
    not recognise the presence of a father in the household in terms of
    the upkeep of the second adult, which is discriminatory against
    two-parent families.

    The statement that “Research has shown that the different
    outcomes experienced by children in two-parent and one-parent
    families are entirely accounted for by income differences” is
    factually incorrect.

    There is now a vast body of research which controls for income
    and which shows that there are other factors at work in relation to
    the poorer outcomes for children from non-traditional families. I
    have reviewed some of it in my book Farewell to the
    Family
    , but the stack of studies grows with every month.

    People are entitled to their own opinions as to the consequences
    of family breakdown, but it just won’t do now to pretend that the
    problems which result for children are simply for the lack of
    cash.

    Patricia Morgan
    Senior research fellow on the family
    Civitas: Institute for the Study of Civil Society


    Staff who support carers feel isolated

    Your article on the pressures faced by mental health carers
    (“Pushed to breaking point”, 7 June) presents an unarguable case
    for empowering carers.

    Similar problems, however, face paid workers who support carers,
    whether from the statutory or voluntary sector.

    We have recently helped to establish “Supporting Carers Better”,
    a national network for professional staff supporting carers in
    mental health. There has been strong initial interest with over 200
    members to date.

    Our second network meeting last month learned of a range of
    exciting good practice around the country. But many workers said
    they felt a huge sense of isolation in their jobs.

    If workers supporting carers feel isolated and disempowered,
    this is hardly promising for carers themselves. We must empower not
    only carers, but also the workers whose job is to support them.

    Simon Lawton-Smith
    Head of Public Affairs
    MACA (the Mental After Care Association)

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