Must it take a tragedy to promote mental
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
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
Co-ordinator, “Lifeline” Cambridge
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
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
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
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?
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
Head of Public Affairs
MACA (the Mental After Care Association)