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Suicide Prevention

Volume 738: debated on Tuesday 17 October 2023

Last month, we published a cross-Government five-year suicide prevention strategy. It sets out our pledge to reduce England’s suicide rates within two and a half years, with over 100 measures aimed at saving lives and providing early intervention for those at highest risk of suicide, including new mums and middle-aged men.

Like many others, I dropped into the campaign event for “One Million Lives”, developed by Jacobs and supported by R;pple, and I was impressed by its efforts to interfere with the online risk of suicide-centric websites. The Minister may be aware that my wife is a long-term volunteer with Darlington and district Samaritans, which has raised with me the “Saving Lives Can’t Wait” campaign. It asks the Government to review local funding for suicide-safer communities, which is due to end. Could I ask the Minister to support the “One Million Lives” campaign, and to push for the renewal of local funding to support suicide-safer communities?

I thank my hon. Friend for his hard work in this area and for his mental health campaigning overall, and also his wife and all who selflessly give their time to volunteer with the invaluable mental health charities. We fully recognise that, and that is why when we launched the suicide prevention strategy we also launched our £10 million suicide prevention grant fund.

On my hon. Friend’s point about wider funding beyond 2024-25, that is subject to a future spending review, but our commitment and record in delivering record investment of £15.9 billion in mental health services just in this financial year, which is 28% more funding than in 2018, should give him confidence that this Conservative Government deliver on mental health services.

Is the Minister able to provide an update on the suicide prevention grant, and particularly on when the money is expected to reach the successful organisations?

We have had a huge response to the opening of the grant, with over 1,800 applications from voluntary groups and organisations. We are assessing those bids and hope to make an announcement before the end of the year.

Campaigns such as 3 Dads Walking and Just 3 Mums Walking have worked incredibly hard to raise awareness of suicide prevention. Has the Minister had time to meet with either of those campaigns yet?

I have met with 3 Dads Walking; I have not met the mums group but am very happy to do so. Because of their intervention and campaigning, we were able to successfully put their campaign about improving mental health awareness in the school curriculum into our suicide prevention strategy. It is a cross-Government strategy, and the Department for Education has very much taken their points on board.

Over 1.8 million people languishing on mental health waiting lists, black people five times more likely to be detained under the Mental Health Act 1983, and over 2,000 people with learning disabilities detained in hospital, all while the Government are dragging their feet on mental health and suicide prevention. You will be interested to know, Mr Speaker, that we had cross-party support to tackle these burning injustices through the draft Mental Health Bill, yet since the Joint Committee on the Draft Mental Health Bill published our report in January we have heard nothing from the Government, so will the Minister today commit to including reform of the Mental Health Act in the King’s Speech?

I was going to pay tribute to the hon. Lady for her work on mental health campaigning, and she will know we have done a huge amount. The suicide prevention strategy is a cross-Government piece of work, which makes sure suicide is everyone’s business, not just that of health and social care. Whether by supporting families bereaved by suicide or rolling out mental health support schemes in schools, it is this Government who are delivering on mental health services.

The House of Commons Library says there has been no statistically significant change in the rate of suicides in England since 2015. Suicide remains the biggest killer of men under 50 in the UK. Why has it taken so long for the Government to bring forward a strategy, and why do they continue to drag their feet over reform to the Mental Health Act? Can the Minister give the House a firm timetable today?

The hon. Lady is not quite right in her statistics. Just before covid we had seen a 20% reduction compared with two decades ago in suicide levels in England. She might be interested to know that in Labour-run Wales suicide rates are higher than in England, and its suicide prevention strategy expired last year. Mental health has been demoted on the shadow Front Bench, too, as we saw from the resignation of the hon. Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan) when the role of shadow mental health Minister was removed from the Opposition Front Bench.