MENTAL health problems cost the UK economy at least £117.9 billion annually according to a report published by Mental Health Foundation and the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

The cost of mental health problems is equivalent to around 5 per cent of the UK’s GDP. Mental health research in the UK is chronically underfunded compared with physical conditions such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and stroke.

In comparison the NHS England’s annual budget for the year 2019/20 was £150.4bn.

Adult social care costs increased to £26bn from £24bn a rise of almost 5% in 20/21 before the inflationary pressures of 11.1% today.

According to the GOV.UK, Special educational needs (SEN) in England for academic year 21/22 are just under 1.5 million pupils in England.

An increase of 77,000 from 2021, both the number of pupils with an EHC (4% increase) and number of pupils with SEN support (12.6% increase).

The most common type of need for those with an EHC plan is autistic spectrum disorder and those with SEN support is speech, language and communication needs.

Currently SEN units are special provisions within the mainstream schools, where the pupils with SEN are taught mainly within separate classes for at least half of that time.

On the other side we have special schools such as Selworthy in Taunton with SEN provision such as autistic spectrum disorder, severe learning difficulty and profound and multiple learning difficulties. With limited capacity of 100 pupils for the whole of secondary school.

There are no schools providing education for children caught in the middle with Moderate Learning Difficulties (MLD). That is where in my view more resources and capacity must be channelled, as resources are not there for mainstream schools to support MLD.

We need to work proactively, supporting families in early years settings and youth provision, in order to reduce the impact of mental health on future life chances of children. Somerset County Council under previous administration slashed these preventative services and consequently we are seeing exponentially rising demand for Children’s Services.

Lack of investment over the years in mental health services in Somerset and wider UK has brought the current problems to a head. Funding and qualified staff are critical to how we go forward. We need to have dedicated funding streams from central government and qualified staff to tackle this increasing problem. Simply passing the buck to the local authorities by instructing them to charge more council tax cannot be the silver bullet!

On November 14, two of England’s largest Tory-run local authorities, Kent and Hampshire have warned the prime minister, Rishi Sunak, that they will be forced to declare bankruptcy within the next few months because of the unprecedented financial crisis enveloping both councils.

"Without a fundamental change either in the way in which adult and children social services are funded, or in our statutory obligations, all of upper-tier local government will soon go over the cliff edge.”

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) the Covid-19 has had massive and far-reaching repercussions for health system, economies and societies. Children and young people have missed out on learning and socialising.

Dévora Kestel, Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Use at WHO, sums up the situation: "While the pandemic has generated interest in and concern for mental health, it has also revealed historical under-investment in mental health services, we must act urgently to ensure that mental health support is available to all.”

Let us not forget that Sunak’s government is running around to undo some of the damage caused by the mini budget announced when Liz Truss was the PM with £45bn of unfunded tax cuts for the rich. Once again the taxpayers have to pickup the tabs for years of Tories mishandling of our economy. Brought about by their own incompetence!

Cllr Habib Farbahi Lib Dem.