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Presidential Blog

Of politics and policy

04 October 2017 | by Nicola Gale

The week just gone featured the Labour Party Conference 24-27 September in Brighton, which representatives of the Society attended (Nigel Atter (Policy Advisor: Prevention) and myself as President).

We go to the party conferences in order to progress our policy influencing, build relationships with policy makers and other stakeholders, and ensure visibility for the Society.

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.


One example of our focus on prevention in recent weeks was the Society’s call for action on suicide following World Suicide Prevention Day. Based on the Society’s recently launched position statement, the Society particularly called for more Government investment into public mental health interventions and research in to psychosocial interventions. The theme of suicide prevention was also picked up by the European Federation of Psychologists’ Associations highlighting the scale of the problem, and what can be done to help. Increasingly, we are keen to collaborate across Europe and Internationally where appropriate in such calls for action.

This and other key position statements both launched and in development (psychology at work, obesity, children’s and young people’s mental health) are some of the messages we are promoting at this year’s conferences.

At the Labour conference, we were disappointed to find less on mental health and wellbeing specifically than we had hoped. There was however much in the bigger picture that we can link to our core policy objective on prevention. The Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell MP spoke about creating opportunities for good, fulfilling and meaningful work, and commitment to address the burden of personal debt which we know correlates with mental health issues. His theme of the fourth industrial revolution and significant pace of technological and digital change was picked up by Rebecca Long-Bailey MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and the need for transformative change including skills development to enable people to thrive.

Other key themes were:

  • Funding for Sure Start, free universal early years education, additional resources for Councils to fund schools including for new school buildings as well as to redevelop the existing school estate, and a lifelong National Education Service to harness talent and potential.
  • Promising a fully funded publicly delivered NHS, committed to tackling the causes of ill health too including social isolation, ending cuts to child and adolescent mental health budgets, and (from family experience) spoke of the importance of investing in addiction treatment services, and a strategy to support the 2.3m children of parents with substance abuse issues.
  • Planning for joined up services from hospital to home, building a national care service, free end of life care, committed to parity of esteem between mental and physical health, an early end to what she described as the ‘savage’ policy of out of area mental health placements, and counselling in every high school.
  • Announcing the launch of a review to address the damage caused by problem gambling and in the absence of industry action, a compulsory levy to fund treatment.

It was interesting too, to watch the party democratic processes at play, and relate those to our own structural review and proposals for a Senate, in particular the processes for composite motions, how aspects of proposed policies and resolutions can be ‘referred back’ for further work and development, and how various constituent groups get to put their points and engage in the debates.

One might wonder to what extent charities (which the Society is) can get involved in campaigning and political activity. The Trustees have just considered this as the Society’s governance manager has updated our guidance on Political Activity. The essence of the guidance is that charities are encouraged to embrace the opportunities that political campaigning can bring and avoid being overly cautious and self-censoring. A charity must however ensure that this activity facilitates or supports the delivery of its charitable purposes, that it does not give its support to a particular political party, must not be used to pursue a personal political stance, that it can justify the resources applied, and there is a reasonable chance of success. Policy influencing is increasingly a core part of what we and similar organisations do in order to achieve public benefit. For our Society, it is fundamental to achieving our impact statement:

‘People are equipped with the everyday psychological skills and knowledge to navigate a complex world, knowing themselves and others better. Everyone can access evidence-based psychology to enhance their lives, communities and wider society.’




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