The BBC has shown contempt for Children’s Mental Health Week. Because during one of its flagship news programmes, it repeated a piece of Tory propaganda. It did so without question – giving viewers the impression the government is spending £2bn on young people’s mental health. This seems completely untrue.
The BBC: ‘look what the government is doing!’
This year’s Children’s Mental Health Week is running from 1-7 February. Smack-bang in the middle of this, BBC News at Six did a segment on the topic. It was in relation to education during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. During host George Alagiah’s introduction to it, he claimed the Department of Health and Social Care (DoHSC) told the BBC that it was:
providing an extra £2bn to help young people.
During #MentalHealthAwareness week @BBCNews force poor @georgealagiah to read an autocue in relation to #CAMHS that says the Dept of Health is investing "£2bn" in young people; omitting the fact this is for JOBS, not young people's mental health.
BBC News is a danger to society. pic.twitter.com/i9FbJgVeW4
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— Steve Topple (@MrTopple) February 3, 2021
The full segment did not mention the £2bn figure again. Funny that – because it’s hard to figure out where £2bn funding for young people’s mental health might have come from.
So what money has been spent on children’s mental health?
In November, chancellor Rishi Sunak said an extra £500m was going into mental health services overall. Prior to this, in May, the government also put £5m into mental health care via Public Health England. So, during the pandemic, the government has spent just over half a billion on mental health services. While some of this money has been pledged to young people’s services, the amount isn’t specified, and these figures are for mental health support across all ages.
Over recent years, there have been additional schemes, like the £750m fund for charities, and it’s given some of this to groups like Childline and Adoption UK. But the government did not ringfence any of this money for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). In 2015, the Tory government said it would spend an additional £1.4bn on CAMHS up until the end of 2020. It also added another £3.3m in 2019. But this is ‘old’ money, not current funding – and it adds up to £1.7bn, not £2bn.
All this comes after the Tory / Lib Dem coalition government cut CAMHS funding by £50m. But fast-forward to December 2020, and as Pulse reported, CAMHS was still in chaos. So, the pandemic and the government’s wilful lack of extra CAMHS support will have just made the situation worse.
But there is another option that the DoHSC might have been referring to. And while it was funding for young people, it wasn’t funding for children’s mental health services.
This Is Money reported that in July 2020, Sunak announced a new jobs scheme. Called Kickstart, it’s supposed to help young people to find work. This Is Money noted that the idea was:
to get young people on Universal Credit, who have lost jobs and opportunities because of coronavirus, back to work.
So, how much is the government spending on the Kickstart scheme? Yes, you guessed it: £2bn.
This has been the only government spending on young people during the pandemic that amounts to £2bn.
Untruths during Children’s Mental Health Week
The Canary asked the BBC Press Office for comment. We wanted to know why it did not explain the £2bn figure may not have been for mental health. But we also asked if it knew about government spending that we didn’t. A spokesperson said:
We are confident that our report was a fair and accurate reflection of events.
So, did the DoHSC mislead the BBC? If so, did the BBC not bother to fact-check its claim. Or maybe there’s a secret pot of £2bn somewhere in the DoHSC that only it and the BBC know about. A further possibility is that the DoHSC is referring to money pledged before the pandemic, all the way back to 2015; money that had nothing to do with the current crisis in CAMHS, and had already run out by the end of last year.
Either way, for the BBC to claim that the DoHSC is unquestionably spending £2bn on young people in the context of mental health is highly misleading. It’s also disrespectful during a week supposed to be dedicated to supporting children’s mental health. Given the public service broadcaster’s long history of spinning for government, we shouldn’t really be surprised.
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