The right to speak out is right. The right to live free from fear is right | Polly Toynbee

I am deeply concerned at the impact of the government’s Prevent bill. Cuts to mental health services will make it harder for people to seek help, put lives at risk, and deter others from…

The right to speak out is right. The right to live free from fear is right | Polly Toynbee

I am deeply concerned at the impact of the government’s Prevent bill. Cuts to mental health services will make it harder for people to seek help, put lives at risk, and deter others from seeking help.

The bill gives huge powers to government officials at every level. Mental health patients will only be able to see a specialist in hospital only if they have breached the terms of their exclusion from the area. Social workers will struggle to provide care for those who have been excluded from a specific area and who may not require residential care. We know that many people with mental health problems live far from home and therefore are unable to travel long distances. These proposals will force people to live in isolation with no one to help them.

Exclusion orders risk stopping access to vital NHS services Read more

The bill allows councils to impose exclusion orders – which include restrictions on contacts with people including a ban on contact with clients, teachers and neighbours – on everyone, even carers. These exclusion orders are put in place without provision for access to legal advice or any information about the petitioners’ rights and responsibilities. It is the police who have the power to apply for bans and frequently refuse to provide any information about why they are doing so, so that even the most basic enquiries into an exclusion order can be made all too difficult. It can then be years, even decades, before an exclusion order is issued and this is only a small part of it.

Exclusion orders are anything but effective. A case study from Salford, Missouri highlights the risk of exclusion orders to vulnerable people. Shelley Napper was refused entry to the hospital where she was receiving treatment for depression because the hospital had just had a patient admitted to the building under an exclusion order, despite being there under the same treatment. The exclusion order should have also ruled out contact with family members and was used in isolation. Shortly after the order had been imposed, the exclusione was found dead in his family home.

No one should be kept under any kind of control order. We should reject such laws as an unnecessary intrusion into our privacy, which creates barriers to access to professionals that need to be able to do their job. Such orders target vulnerable people and fail to protect the public and open up a rich vein of potential freedom for police to misuse.

We need an effective mental health system. The Tories want to take one of its key elements and kick it on the ground – this is the road to destruction. They want to make it more difficult for people to access professional care and support. They can’t be trusted. In the end the only effective way to tackle the problems posed by extremism is through addressing the causes. As this bill is pushed through parliament, there should be immediate calls for Theresa May to stand down as the leader of the Conservative party.

This government’s on a clear collision course with basic British values. They have abandoned the NHS; they are pursuing a hard Brexit that will ultimately increase the gap between rich and poor, force women and people of colour further into poverty and put young people on the streets; and they have today delivered a bill that undermines basic rights for all, as well as damaging people’s ability to access healthcare and get access to lawyers.

The right to speak out is right. The right to live free from fear is right. The right to feel safe and equal to everyone else should be right – they are values that are at the heart of our sense of justice and a fundamental right.

I call on the leaders of all political parties to pause this bill and ensure that people’s rights are protected and protected without losing effective control over their own lives.

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