Call for Cabinet-level mental health focus

By Oliver Hotham

The government needs a mental health minister at Cabinet level, an influential economist will argue later.

Labour peer Richard Layard will call for the move at a lecture at the London School of Economics later that mental illness lies at the root of Britain's social problems and requires much more attention by the government.

He will argue that it should represent a "sixth pillar" of the welfare state and that it is all too often overlooked by policy makers.

Lord Layard is expected to say that Britain requires a new direction when it comes to attitudes towards mental health:

"One reason why we are no happier than we were in the 1950s is that despite huge advances in education, health and living standards, we have neglected the deep personal problems that hold so many people back," he will say.

"This situation will not be altered without a radical change that reflects the importance of mental health in our national life.

"It requires a separate cabinet minister for mental health and social care within the Department of Health."

The economist will cite statistics that indicate only a quarter of people with mental illness go into treatment – and that it accounts for half of all sick days off and for almost half of all disabled people on incapacity benefit.

Lord Layard, often cited as the origin of many New Labour economic policies such as the 'New Deal', has since devoted his attention to "happiness economics".

He argues that income is an insufficient measure of individual happiness and his work has resulted in the creation of the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) initiative.

Only 15% of NHS expenditure is on treatment for mental illness.