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Presidential Blog

Talking to the policymakers

27 October 2017 | by Nicola Gale

This month continues the political theme, beginning with the Conservative Party Conference which took place in Manchester between 1 and 4 October.

This one was attended by Lisa Morrison Coulthard Lead Policy Adviser/Acting Director of Policy, Nigel Atter Policy Adviser (Prevention) and myself as President. 

We busied ourselves not only at the main sessions but also at relevant fringe events, focusing on those that appeared most relevant to our core policy agenda.  As I said last month, in the policy arena, we have developed a set of key asks across practice, research, education and training and public policy. By repeating and re-emphasising the same core policy objectives across all areas of Psychology, we aim to gain traction and build our reputation with policy makers.

One of our key policy priorities is prevention, with the key objective being ‘Governments should commit to prevention and this should be reflected in legislation, policy priorities, budget allocations and departmental targets’. Prevention is particularly relevant when seeking to influence the longer-term policy making of the kind that gets discussed at the party conferences.

Work and benefits are an area in which we campaign for evidence-based practice, regard for vulnerability and recognition of mental health needs in assessment, and an end to unnecessary reassessment.  We heard the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions The Rt Hon David Gauke MP in conversations on the subject of the rollout of Universal Credit, acknowledging how vulnerability impacts assessment, addressing unnecessary repeat assessments by promising no reassessment for long-term conditions with twice as many people to benefit than was thought, acknowledging the need for mental health training for staff, and recognising that this is about people not just numbers.  His conference address committed the Government not to turn their backs on those most in need, to compassion, and to a welfare system measured not just by money but by lives transformed. 

Another of our areas of focus is children and young people, and at a YoungMinds fringe event there was considerable interest in the forthcoming green paper on children and young people’s mental health, joint action between likeminded organisations where possible, making whole-school approaches a reality, and from Helen Whately MP, a significant interest in mental health, and particularly addressing the risk of suicide for university students.

At various meetings we raised questions, put forward our policy agenda, spoke about joint approaches, and highlighted what the Society is here for.  At a meeting between the Society and James Morris MP, Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Rt Hon Damian Green MP First Secretary of State and Minister for the Cabinet Office, we discussed how approaches to mental health and wellbeing can be mainstreamed and coordinated across departmental agendas. We took the opportunity to highlight the benefits psychologists can bring by providing good quality assessment and formulation of need as the front end to getting the right level of care first time.  In response to the need to expand the workforce, we noted how more of our large pool of psychology graduates might be brought into the workforce. 

Our policy team and our external policy consultants at Westminster, whom we liaised with closely at the Conference, are now engaged in setting up further meetings to take forward our agenda. 

The political lens turned inwards for our own General Assembly in Leicester, where the representatives of all our main Member Networks gather annually.  The Assembly:

  • Reviewed progress on our Structural Review. For an update see the October 2017 Update on our Structural Review pages;
  • Considered how our Theory of Change work which will shortly be made available to members will ensure all our resources and activity can be aligned to the achievement of our Impact Statement “People, organisations and communities are equipped with the everyday psychological knowledge to navigate a complex world. Everyone can access evidence-based psychology to enhance their lives, communities and wider society”; and
  • Spent the majority of the event in a walkthrough of how our new Senate might operate - see the Governance tab on our Structural Review pages. 

The Senate sessions included a debate on the topic of prescribing rights for psychologists, as an example of what a Senate debate might be like, and which used sli.do technology to gather views and for voting.  Perhaps not surprisingly, given that the debate was intended simply to start the Society’s consideration and consultation with all members on the topic, it was referred back for further work, and referral to the appropriate Society Boards.  As you’ll see from the Structural Review update, we plan to run the Assembly as Senate from 2018. 

There is much detail still to be worked through and processes to put in place, but the Assembly committed to this being a body ‘with teeth’, and to collaborative working from the start with the Trustees and Senior Management Team to ensure that, while it is recognised trustees retain legal responsibility, the wishes of the membership will fundamentally drive the policy priorities of the Society and how the membership wants the Society to look, sound and feel. 

Out and about meeting members the following week, the issue of political activity and campaigning came to the fore again.  At the Manchester North West Branch, a group of psychologists for social change considered psychologists’ roles from individual advocacy for example writing a letter for a service user, through to policy influencing.  For me, it was easy to link this to our policy work and important that our members understand that with certain caveats, political activity is an important part of a charity’s work. 

Members may find it useful to read our guidance on Political Activity.   In Wales with clinical psychologists, there was also a real desire to achieve impact in our work, and a valuing of being able to network with those in the same clinical practice contexts in order to achieve this.  Both groups were having AGMs and filled their committees with people willing to take on a range of different roles, it was clear that as a Society we have much to be proud of in our membership.

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