26 April 2017 | by Peter Kinderman
What would a psychologically informed general election manifesto include?
I’ve always taken the view that psychological science should actively inform policy.
Human beings are the ‘units’ of public policy and therefore any government serious about improving the lives of the public and understanding why intractable problems persist must ensure that their policies and interventions are based on an in-depth understanding of human behaviour.
What, then, would a psychologically informed general election manifesto include?
First, it would put psychological science at the heart of policy-making. We need to implement evidence-based, professionally consulted, policies. This is just what we argued for on the recent March for Science.
It would also make wellbeing, and not just economic or financial productivity, an objective of policy-making [https://whatworkswellbeing.org/about/]. And that, in turn, would mean that a psychologically informed manifesto would consider wider psychosocial factors and propose policies that support meaningful, purposeful, employment and greater social and financial equity .
When we move on to health and social care, a psychologically informed manifesto would commit to a properly funded, integrated, health and social care system free at the point of need. This would detail how prevention, as well as care, is a policy priority and would promise appropriate levels of funding, matching our European partners’ investment.
Such policies would reflect a fundamental understanding of the proven links between social and health inequalities. Such policies would not only promote social justice but are justified on the basis of their likely return on investment.
As psychologists, we perhaps have a particular interest in mental health, so we want to see manifestos that include a commitment to implement – and fund – the existing Department of Health five-year forward view for mental health. This would include commitments to increase access and capacity across child and adult services, to provide a choice of joined-up quality services delivered by highly trained staff, and to shorter waiting times.
This commitment would ensure not merely a parity of esteem, but genuine parity. In other words, we don't want commitments to parity of “esteem” to obscure the fact that we have an underfunded, underresourced mental health system with no guarantee to provide a choice of services that people need and which are proven to be helpful.
As psychologists we would also argue (along with many of our psychiatry colleagues) for mental health legislation that ensures people retain their autonomy unless they lose their capacity to make rational decisions for themselves to be included in the forthcoming programme for government. These ambitions would ideally be facilitated by a dedicated, cabinet-level minister for mental health.
When we turn to the benefits system, a psychologically-informed manifesto would commit to a fundamental reform of the ‘work capability assessment’, already judged as not fit for purpose, and an end to sanctions and conditionality. Personally, I support a form of universal basic income and would like to see a commitment to considering the growing evidence base for it in all manifestos.
A manifesto informed by psychological science would stress the importance of children’s school education and the psychological development of young people and invest accordingly. The British Psychological Society has already joined others in repudiating excessive testing of young people, and we have called for wellbeing and psychological health to be core elements of the school curriculum . The context of our developing years is so important for social cohesion and equity.
Pretty much all the subject matter of politics is the subject matter of psychology. I haven’t, here, mentioned democracy or xenophobia, taxation policy or behavioural economics. I haven’t mentioned criminal justice or security issues, despite the contribution of psychologists in this area, nor transport policy. Policymakers working on manifesto pledges would do well to incorporate psychological evidence.
Of course, the general election will be fought in the traditional battleground of politics, and the new battleground of Brexit. But psychology does have its place in the debate, and a psychologically informed manifesto would have the advantage of a sound evidence base.