‘Stop Discriminatory Mental Health Bill’ – Black Church Leaders

The Council of Black Led Churches, The African Caribbean Evangelical Alliance, The Peace Alliance and Christians Together in Brent are among the growing number of faith groups who have expressed their grave concern over the government’s handling of the changes to the 1983 Mental Health Act. The crisis in black mental health is increasingly recognised as one of the most critical issues facing African Caribbean communities in Britain today.

The DH (Department of Health’s) exclusion of Black Church leaders from any consultation over the changes to the law that have been conducted over the last 11 months confirms the Government’s lack of commitment to addressing the widespread discrimination within mental health services. With BMCs (Black Majority Churches)  are now  one of the most significant institutions within the Black community. Many community leaders are astounded at the move to exclude church leaders from consultation until the 11th hour.

Health Minister Patricia Hewitt’s acknowledgement of this oversight by the DH in a letter to Black Mental Health UK last week, confirmed the need to consult with Black churches. This has been welcomed from many quarters and has led to calls for proceedings  to be halted until the views of Black church groups can be briefed and have their views fully taken on board.

Bishop Wayne Malcolm Christian Life City said: “I am concerned to learn that Black Majority Church leaders have not been consulted over the changes to the law because we represent one of the largest groups within the black community.”

“The Government would be well advised to try and consult properly with all groups including church leaders before  changes to the law goes to Parliament,” Dr Bishop Joe Aldred, chair of the Council of Black Led Churches said.

“The whole process has been mired with controversy, there has been a slapdash approach from the outset.  The Government need to rethink the timescales in order to recover credibility because their approach over this issue has been desperately poor. We seem to have a consultation that fails to meet any of the very basic elements required for a REIA (race equality impact assessment).” Lee Jasper, chair of ACHMC said.

With plans to include proposed changes within the Queens Speech this week the concensus among church leaders is that if the Department of Health is serious about consultation then their plans will have to go back to the drawing board until all key stakeholders views have been properly considered.

“It would be a serious oversight not to take consultations with Black Church groups over this issue seriously. Their concerns must be taken seriously, this can only happen if plans to send changes to the House of Commons this week are halted.  Anything else is unacceptable,” Matilda MacAttram, Black Mental Health UK said.