Wednesday 30 September 2020 / 10:30 PM Education / Kate Green / Mental Health / Rosena Allin-Khan

Labour calls for urgent and immediate action to support students’ mental health

Labour has called for the government to take immediate action to support the mental health of university students who have to self-isolate due to coronavirus.

Warning that a failure to act could create a mental health crisis for thousands of young people, Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, the Shadow Mental Health Minister, and Kate Green, the Shadow Education Secretary, have called for the government to work with students, universities, and students’ unions to ensure that every young person has the support they need.

Keir Starmer and Kate Green will tomorrow (Thursday) host a Zoom call with students who have recently starting university, and their parents, to hear and discuss the challenges they are facing.

Even before the pandemic, there was evidence that the support available for students was inadequate. Data from last year found that some students were waiting longer than a university term to access counselling, with one in four universities having cut or frozen their budgets for student mental health.

The number of students reporting a mental health condition has risen sharply in recent years. In 2018/19 82,000 students said they had a mental health condition, two and a half times as high as in 2014/15.

Already insufficient services could be pushed to breaking point by the impact of the pandemic. Research has already shown that coronavirus has had a negative impact on the mental health of young people, and many will now be self-isolating in their university accommodation. Young Minds have highlighted that many young people were already “anxious and apprehensive” about the move to university.

Speaking in Parliament yesterday, Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, acknowledged that the situation on university campuses will affect the mental health and wellbeing of students, but did not announce any additional support.

Labour called Williamson’s failure to outline a programme of support for students in self-isolation, and others affected by coronavirus, an act of “shocking complacency”, and called for this support to be prioritised.

Labour has called for the government to:

  1. Outline an emergency package of measures that will support the mental health of students, particularly those who are self-isolating;
  2. Ensure that existing services are genuinely accessible, with signposting of support for all students to be reinforced;
  3. Work with students and students’ unions, as well as universities, accommodation providers and local NHS and mental health partners, to deliver support where it is most needed.

Commenting, Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, Labour’s Shadow Mental Health Minister, said:

“The current situation for students across the country requires urgent attention.

“Even before the pandemic, students were placed on long waiting lists for access to mental health services – we cannot have students falling through the cracks now.

“Parents deserve to know that when they send their children to university, they are safe and their wellbeing is supported.”

Commenting, Kate Green MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, said:

“Students across the country are in an extremely difficult position, and many are now self-isolating with a group of people who are practically strangers.

“The challenges in returning to universities were predictable and predicted, and it was an act of shocking complacency for the government to fail to ensure that students would all get the support they need.

“Gavin Williamson must end his serial incompetence and urgently outline his plans to support the mental health of young people.”