Brook’s Head of Policy and Public Affairs, Lisa Hallgarten, tells us what difference the election on 12 December could make and highlights Brook’s key asks for the new government.
As the nation prepares to drag itself to the polling station for the fourth time in as many years, the media are adding to our ennui by telling us that whatever the party manifestos say this is just a ‘Brexit Election’ *sigh*.
But is it?
An end to austerity?
Both the major parties have promised an end to the austerity policies that have pushed our public services to breaking point. Labour is committing to a huge programme of investment; and Johnson’s election narrative is about taking a new approach – separating himself from the deep cuts implemented over the last nine years, including by governments in which he served as a Minister. Sexual health services have been particularly badly hit by cuts so the uplift in public health spending promised by both parties will be very welcome.
Law and policy matter
While it is inevitable that the public and third sectors have been preoccupied by money, legislation has also had an impact on our work. One of the first pieces of legislation introduced by the Conservative and Lib Dem coalition was the Health and Social Care Act (2012), a reorganisation of the NHS described by one commentator as ‘so big you could see it from space’. In reproductive health the negative impact of that legislation is still being felt, with the complex fragmentation of commissioning responsibilities resulting in lack of access and a lack of holistic, joined up, accessible, patient-centred care across a range of reproductive health areas.
Equally, we have seen some important progress; the Children and Social Work Act (2017) introduces mandatory Relationships and Sex Education (secondary) and Relationships Education (primary) and Health Education in every school in England from next year. In 2017, the Government agreed to pay for the abortions of women forced to travel from Northern Ireland to the British mainland; this year abortion was decriminalised in Northern Ireland and forthcoming guidance aims to ensure that women there can access safe, legal abortions without having to get on a boat or a plane and Northern Ireland will also see equal marriage on the statute books. After years of campaigning the national HPV vaccination programme has been extended to boys.
These successful developments were down to cross-party working and/or opposition pressure, so whatever the make-up of the next Government, we look forward to working with the whole intake of new MPs to encourage them to support the policies that are needed to create a happier, healthier country.
Brook’s priorities for a new government
High quality, accessible sexual and reproductive health services for all
- implement a system-wide sexual and reproductive health strategy
- prioritise prevention; committing at least an additional £1bn a year of public health funding, in line with recommendations from the Health Foundation and the Kings Fund; and ensuring longer term funding settlements for local authorities to support planning and innovation
- address health inequality by ensuring funding for specialist services and targeted interventions for young people and others at greatest risk of poor sexual health outcomes
- support access to abortion services free from harassment through implementing a national buffer zone policy
- Decriminalise abortion in line with the recommendations of professional medical bodies including RCOG, FSRH, RCM, BMA, RCGP
Universal, inclusive and comprehensive Relationships, Sex and Health Education (RSHE)
- commit sufficient funding to upskill the teaching workforce to increase teachers’ knowledge, skills and confidence to deliver inclusive, high quality RSHE
- create a teaching specialism in RSHE
- ensure school inspection regimes provide scrutiny of and support to improve RSHE
- ensure every child and young person receives their entitlement to evidence based RSHE, regardless of the school they attend, their faith, gender, sexuality or disability
Excellent health for young people
- by committing to a fully funded, cross departmental, nationally led, and locally implemented young people’s health strategy addressing prevention and promoting good physical and mental health
- by investing sufficiently in all the people and places young people can get information, advice and support with their health including: schools and school nursing, the play and youth services, recreation and sports facilities, specialist health services for young people, children’s social care, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services and primary care
- by investing in young people so that they can become effective advocates; and ensure they have a greater role in shaping education, youth work, healthcare and community life
Brook works closely with other organisations that champion sexual and reproductive health and rights and improving the lives of young people. We endorse the manifestos, candidate pledges, and other election related advocacy of these organisations:
Terrence Higgins Trust – #SexualHealthManifesto Stand up for Sexual Health
BPAS – #MyPledgeHerChoice My Pledge Her Choice
Stonewall – #ComeOutVoting Election Manifesto 2019
Third sector involvement is crucial
Finally, we want to make a plea for the next government to understand the value that the voluntary sector brings to promoting and supporting good health.
Charities have unique access to, and excellent relationships with, people across different age groups, cultures, ethnicities, localities and health conditions. We have enormous institutional knowledge and skills.
Many charities can ‘reach the parts’ that statutory services cannot reach; we are flexible and innovative; and bring brilliant insights and knowledge to policy-making and service delivery.
Listen to us. Involve us. Fund us.