Missing the point

Two Lib Dem stories in the press this week have reduced me to a quivering, fuming wreck. Firstly Nick Clegg announces a commitment to investment in treatment for mental illness. “What’s wrong with that?” I hear you cry across the ether. Surely this is a good idea? Well done Nick! Well yes, it is broadly to be welcomed but his emphasis on “treatment” and anti-depressant drugs development is, to use a hoary old chestnut, bolting the door after the horse has already fiddled his expenses (oops, bit of politics there…).

Adult learning has been proven, time and time again, to have significant benefits to participants’ mental health. Adult learning is a low-cost, high-impact solution to many mild to moderate mental health issues. Anxiety, agoraphobia, depression etc. Look at Manchester Museum and IWM North’s “In Touch” volunteer programme which was simply designed to get local community members to volunteer in the museums. An unexpected result was that some became less reliant on prescription medication and others even returned to employment.

This paper from NIACE, back in 2003, expresses the impact of adult learning on mental health too. This is nothing new. The research is out there. Nick Clegg is to be lauded for raising the profile of mental health issues but he, and all parties, need to develop a deeper understanding of the BEST ways to tackle many mental illnesses.

The drugs don’t work for everyone….

The second Lib Dem faux pas (and I hasten to add I would be as exercised about this if any other political party said these things) is Peter Black MP’s quotes in today’s Telegraph re the Welsh Government’s record of effectiveness through the Communities First programme.

Communities First is a very expensive economic and social development programme for the poorest areas of Wales. It has cost in the region of £400 million over 12 years. There are many who question its effectiveness but Peter Black has chosen to illustrate this by questioning the worth of a tattoo art course (costing £170 per person) in Bridgend. He says, of the course and fees, “These funds are being allocated to create sustainable communities and to get people into work. It is difficult to see how this venture can be justified in those terms”.

Well, putting the big picture of Communities First to one side Mr Black, why are you picking on a perfectly appropriate course which not only engages adults who have not been in education for a long time, but also introduces them to a potentially lucrative career!? Art, of whatever type, has the power to empower. Tattoo art has the power to employ.

Once again, politicians, please engage your brains before engaging your mouths. Adult learning in, and through, the culture sector makes a difference. Stop knocking it and start funding it….



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