Black church leaders want review of Mental Health Bill race provisions

By staff writers
31 Dec 2006

Bishop Dr Joe Aldred, chair of the Council of Black-led Churches and the Rev Nezlin Sterling, chair of the African Caribbean Evangelical Alliance and a president of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, are among the Christian leaders backing Black Mental Health UK’s call for the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) to examine the Department of Health’s handling of the race review in the government’s new Mental Health Bill.

Black Mental Health UK (BMH UK), a human rights campaign group, has written to the chair of the CRE, Professor Kay Hampton, highlighting their concerns over what it deems to be the failings of the Race Equality Impact Assessment Report (REIA) report which was published alongside the highly contentious November 2006 Mental Health Bill.

The move comes at a time when some of the government’s own advisors have distanced themselves from the report.

“The final document is ill-considered and inaccurate and in no way reflects what the committee agreed. I was not able to see the REIA report before it went out and so was not able to check it for accuracy”, consultant psychiatrist, Dr Kwame McKenzie, a committee member on the Race Equality Impact Assessment Report, declared.

People of African-Caribbean origin make up 30 per cent of in-patients on medium secure wards, despite comprising less than 3 per cent of the overall national population.

BMH UK has therefore been pushing for the inclusion of stakeholders from the community, including black church leaders, in consultation over changes to the law.

It says that the crisis in black mental health is increasingly being recognised as one of the most critical issues effecting black Britons today.

Government appointed committee members on the advisory panel have condemned the governments REIA, as “painfully inadequate”, leading to calls a formal investigation by the Commission for Racial Equality.

“It would be wise for us to press the CRE to ensure that the requirements in the Race Relations Amendment Act are adhered to in light of the impact the 2006 Bill will have on our communities,” commented Bishop Dr Joe Aldred, who is also Secretary for Minority Ethnic Christian Affairs (MECA) with Churches Together in England and CTBI.

He continued: “This is an issue I would like to see taken up more widely in order to ensure discrimination within services is addressed within the legislation.”

“One of the major oversights of the REIA is the absolute lack of consultation with Black Churches... who are among the largest stakeholders from the community. In order to put things right this must be addressed,” added the Rev Nezlyn Sterling from ACEA.

“The Department of Health mishandling of race felled the 2004 Mental Health Bill; one would have thought they would have learnt from past mistakes,” Matilda MacAttram of Black Mental Health UK concluded.

Black Mental Health UK is online at: http://www.blackmentalhealth.org.uk/

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