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Last week, I talked to the mother of a 19-year-old young man who took his life. He left school at 16 and found an unskilled job. He was struggling to enter the adult world of responsibilities and problem solving, but had a flat and a job. Then he lost his job and, lacking skills and qualifications, he struggled to find another one. Debts mounted up: at 19 years of age, he did not qualify for full housing benefit, and he could
not find the support and help that he needed. He turned to drugs and alcohol to hide from his sense of failure and despair. He was known to the police, and his life spiralled downwards. It grew more chaotic, and so it became even more impossible for him to find a job.
That young man attempted suicide but could get no further help. Shortly afterwards, he killed himself. Like too many others, his family is now struggling with the aftermath of his death. His mother has given up her job and is having counselling, and his siblings are greatly distressed. This young mans mother has complained of the lack of support services for families who are bereaved and devastated by suicide. We all tend to forget them as a group, but the degree of devastation that they experience is immense.
The young man about whom I have spoken is not typical of all those who have died. The mental health services knew about him, but he did not know about the Samaritans. I commend the local Samaritans for the prompt action that they took. They have a campaign with a proven track record that is being rolled out across Bridgend.
I also want to thank Andrew Goodall of the local health board. When we met last Friday, he agreed to find the money to fund the campaign. Ironically, we met at the Bridgend recreation centres excellent exhibition of health and well-beingan example of good partnership working involving the local health board, the primary care trust, the local authority and the voluntary sector. A similar partnership has worked for the past year to develop a local suicide strategy, and I am advised that that will be launched in the next few weeks. I commend that local initiative but, while work on a local strategy has been undertaken and research has been gathered about similar problems in Scotland, 22 young people have died.
Wales had a target of cutting suicides by 15 per cent. by 2000, but in 2002 that target was cut to 10 per cent. Neither target was metin fact, the suicide rate in Wales increased. For many years, groups such as Papyrus have been asking the Welsh Assembly to consider formulating a national suicide prevention strategy. Given that Wales has a significantly higher suicide rate than England, it is striking and shocking that Wales has not yet done so. Since England introduced the suicide prevention strategy in 2002, suicide has dropped dramatically across all age groups, and the upward trend in suicides among young males has been reversed. The overall suicide rate there is now the lowest on record. Wales is many years behind not just England but Scotland, Northern Ireland and many other countries.
At the international suicide prevention conference in Killarney, people from all over the world met to share their prevention work and, most importantly, their expertise. I am told that there was no representation from Wales. Representatives from Scotland, England and Northern Ireland meet regularly to discuss implementation of their respective strategies. Wales is missing out on an opportunity to share good practice and, vitally, to learn from others.
Money is key to a successful strategy. Scotland invested £20 million in its 2002 Choose Life strategy. Bridgend is relying on lottery funding that may be
available in 2009 for its locally written strategy. I am sure that other hon. Members will find it unacceptable that young people may die while waiting for charity funds to be made available.
I have repeatedly been asked whether deprivation is the problem. If one reads the national press, Bridgend is a ghost town, and suicide is just what people do there because there is nothing else to do, but we have good schools, low unemployment, active churches, an active voluntary sector and social cohesion. Community identity remains strong. It is a good place to live and bring up a family. Like many parts of the UK, it does have some young people who are marginalised. Some have troubled family lives, some do not do well in school, some have mental health problems and some use drugs and alcohol. All of them have a common feeling of despair and failure, and can see no future ahead of themno future for which to live and work.
Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate on a distressing subject. She and other hon. Members will be aware that the Education and Skills Bill is in Committee. It places an obligation on authorities to follow up on all 16 to 18-year-olds and offer them education and training opportunities. Does she agree that that might offer support to some of the young people whom we are not currently reaching, and might help to prevent some suicides?
Mrs. Moon: I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. I totally agree: it is critical that that support is available to young people in Wales. That statutory requirement on local authorities and trainers to provide support and access to education, training and apprenticeships is vital for our young people in Wales.
Suicide is everybodys business. We need a population-based approach and trained people in the community who are ready, willing and able to intervene. Minds training programme, ASISTapplied suicide intervention skills trainingis central to the national suicide prevention strategy in Scotland, Ireland and Norway. The Scottish Executives recent review of the Choose Life strategy said that ASIST was the most successful activity to be mainstreamed to date. The aim is to train as many people as possible within the community to be able to recognise anyone who is suicidal. The focus of the workshop is on immediate safety, not fixing problems. It is described as suicide first aid. I am extremely pleased that the Welsh Assembly Government are backing the roll-out of the ASIST programme across Wales, under a joint plan by the local health board and voluntary organisations in Bridgend.
I am aware that I must conclude. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to raise a number of issues with the First Minister in Wales and others here in Westminster, to ensure that there is an understanding that this Welsh problem needs an urgent response. Wales needs a national suicide prevention strategy. There are successful templates in Scotland and England, and there is a local strategy for Bridgend. Money must be found for the Bridgend strategy; we cannot be expected to wait for lottery funding. The money must be provided so that the strategy can start immediately.
There is excellent work in Bridgend: Porthcawl counselling service, the Bridgend street pastors, the community safety partnership, Ogwr DASHthe drugs and alcohol self-help groupthe West Glamorgan council on drugs and alcohol and the community drugs and alcohol team. The bones are there; flesh is needed in the form of a strategy, additional funding and information to tell young people where services are and where help is available. The Mind ASIST training being rolled out across Wales will be invaluable to front-line workers such as the police, as it will to mental health workers, youth workers, GPs and church leaders, who are often contacted by friends and family for advice and support in the devastation that follows each suicide.
Will my hon. Friend the Minister discuss with the Department for Work and Pensions the impact on vulnerable young people of the policy of restricting access to part housing benefit? I appreciate the reason behind the policy, but I urge my hon. Friend to ensure that conversations take place with organisations such as Wallich and YELLOW to assess fully its impact on the most vulnerable.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith), I recognise the value of the Education and Skills Bill, currently in Committee, to the most vulnerable and marginalised young peoplethose most at risk of seeing life as holding too little for their future, and who need support as they struggle with young adulthood, finding work and developing skills and training. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to discuss with the First Minister the vital role adopting the Bill will play, from 2013, in offering young people in Wales hope for the future in an increasingly complex world where there is little tolerance of those who fail to meet employers rising expectations. Finally, I urge my hon. Friend to meet a delegation of Welsh colleagues, who are all concerned about the issues in their constituencies, so that he can convey to the First Minister how concerned we are here in Westminster.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, I thank you for your indulgence. With a young person dying on average every two weeks in Bridgend, this is not the time for delay. This is the time for actionfor our young people to be given the same help and support that is available in England and Scotland. My hon. Friend the Minister and I do not want to be talking to journalists about further deaths. We want to talk about success and how wonderful Bridgend and Wales are to live in, to work and raise a family.
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): I very much commend the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs. Moon). She may know that part of my upbringing was spent in south Wales, near the area where she lives and which she represents. I endorse what she says about the wonderful community nature of south Wales and Glamorgan, not just in Bridgend and Ogmore but in other places, too.
When my brother and I were youngsters in south Wales, our mother worked as a volunteer with Cardiff Samaritans. Even then, I knew how important that work was. Confidentiality was maintained, but families were aware of the pressures on young people, especially
on young men. We moved to Hereford when I was 18, and so convinced was our dear mother of the need for that work that she helped to found the Hereford branch of Samaritans and in due course became its director. She died last year, and it was a tribute to her that the Hereford Samaritans recognised her contributionas did the wider community.
I wanted to speak as someone who is an ambassador for the Samaritans, and who endorses completely the message that people who do not think they are vulnerable, particularly young men, should remember that the Samaritans are there 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. I also endorse Papyrus, of which I am one of three cross-party parliamentary patrons. The organisation works to support families when youngsters take their lives. It also responds to people who are thinking of suicide, to prevent them.
The hon. Member for Bridgend made it clear that the issue affects all of us. When I was in my 20s, a friend suddenly took their life, to the shock and consternation of their family, simply because it appeared that they had received a job rejection. That was the trigger, but clearly there must have been some underlying cause. I remember a godchild of mine, as a university student, going through a very hard time and family and friends being extremely worried about my godchilds mental health and stability. Only last year a friend lost their life, probably in circumstances that were similar.
The message must go out from here that the Government will respond in Wales and elsewhere, but individuals and families should know that there is always somebody who can be a personal contactnot an electronic contact, but a personal contact at the end of a line. If people do not know the number, I hope that after this debate it will be better known. Bridgend, like everywhere else, will, I hope, be a slightly safer place where people who feel tempted to think that taking their lives is the answer may be reminded that there are always better ways.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Huw Irranca-Davies): First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mrs. Moon) on securing the debate on such an important and timely issue as suicide prevention strategies. I thank her for the calm, measured and well informed way in which she introduced the debate, and for her work, not just recently but over a sustained period with others to bring an end to this tragic string of events.
The issue is of great concern to Members of Parliament, Assembly Members and elected representatives, all of whom will want to find a way forward for the families and communities affected. Our thoughts and sympathies go out to the families and friends who have been affected by these tragedies. As a father myself, I struggle to imagine the devastation caused by those young deaths. It is a time for sombre reflection, and for considered and effective action.
The consequences in emotional and practical terms are felt by many of us, from close family members and friends, to colleagues, the many statutory and voluntary agencies involved in the provisions of health and social care, and the wider community. We would all
want, I am sure, to pay tribute to those who are actively working with young people and supporting them in making sense of these tragic events.
Over the past few weeks, as my hon. Friend said, because of a number of family tragedies, the national media spotlight has been focused on Bridgend and Ogmore, the parliamentary constituencies that she and I represent. The reasons the Bridgend area is under intense focus are clear. We acknowledge that over the past 10 years rates of suicide among those aged 16 to 29 have been higher than elsewhere in Wales. The recent deaths of young women, an untypical pattern, and speculation over links through the internet or other means have given Bridgend understandable prominence.
As my hon. Friend said, it is important that we put those events in context. The Bridgend population overall has suicide rates approximating the Welsh average. There are other areas in Wales and the UK that have similar or higher rates, or where clusters can be identified. The UK as a whole has one of the lowest suicide rates in Europe and the rest of the world. That context is vital.
My hon. Friend referred to the role of the media. Research shows that media reporting can have a significant impact and influence on young peoples response to suicides. Therefore, I strongly urge measured and considered reporting of all such events and of the debate today, with consideration for the impact that that may have on the bereaved families and the wider community.
There has been much speculation about internet suicide rooms and cults. We all share the publics concern about websites that may have an undue influence over vulnerable people, particularly the young, but caution is needed. No one should jump to conclusions about the connection between internet sites and the deaths in Bridgend or elsewhere. Work is ongoing in relation to the internet and forms one strand of the Byron review, an independent review commissioned by the Prime Minister. The Ministry of Justice is also due to publish safer network guidance, and I am aware of the work of the Samaritans and other agencies, which have been mentioned by hon. Members, and their contribution to that work.
Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con): I thank the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs. Moon) for her debate, which follows on from last nights Adjournment debate, in which I mentioned this issue, on the filtering of internet content for children. The Minister mentioned the Byron review, to which we all look forward with considerable interest. Does he know whether the Samaritans will give evidence to it?
Huw Irranca-Davies: That is a useful intervention. I cannot say categorically that they will, but I hope so. They have substantial experience in this field and without a doubt it would be helpful if they contributed to the review.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend and others will know that the Welsh Assembly Government have devolved powers in health and social services, so it
is right to highlight the approach in Wales. Within Wales, the Department for Children, Education, Lifelong Learning and Skills is working actively on internet safety, with a child exploitation and online protection centre. Furthermore, the UK police agency has undertaken significant pieces of work in this area and the health promotion information division of the Welsh Assembly Government has provided resources for secondary schools on internet and mobile phone safety.
All hon. Members will note the call by Mind Cymru to run training in all Welsh schools for the prevention of suicide, in line with the applied suicide intervention skills training programme, or ASISTa suicide prevention initiative funded by the Welsh Assembly Government. My hon. Friend is aware that a fully subscribed ASIST course will be running in Bridgend shortly, and I know that she has fully supported that. During the past year, ASIST has trained more than 400 people from 60 different organisations in Wales, and it will make a significant contribution to the skills of local professionals engaged in suicide prevention.
The community advice and listening line in Wales, or CALL, has periodic advertising campaigns and the childrens branch has just contributed funding so that parents of children who have committed or attempted suicide are aware of the service and can contact it easily. On 10 October last year, world mental health day, a text messaging service was also launched.
Funding from the mental health branch to the Samaritans, who have significant expertise in this field, has doubled to £38,000 for 2008-09 from the 2007-08 funding level. The mental health promotion action plan has already commissioned a flagship programme of mental health first aid, which will be delivered by Mind Cymru.
I echo my hon. Friends wordsI welcome the action that has already begun locally; the draft suicide prevention strategy for Bridgend has been circulated to more than 30 stakeholders. That should be a kick-start for all agencies, schools and the local community to take action. My hon. Friend has recognised the value of that approach and rightly urges that that coherent strategy be put fully and urgently into effect.
I turn to other issues that have been raised. My hon. Friend mentioned the YELLOW and Wallich projects, which extend across the Bridgend area. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan) and the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) referred to the work of the Samaritans. It is absolutely right to praise that work and that of countless others in the voluntary and statutory sectors. I am also thinking of the Kenfig Hill, Pyle and Cornelly youth group, the boys and girls clubs and the youth organisations that provide services day in, day out, year in, year out. Volunteers often form the backbone of their work. Schools and social services in Bridgend and elsewhere deserve credit for their role.
In respect of taking up issues with the Welsh Assembly Government and others, my hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) rightly mentioned the role of other Whitehall Departments, including the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department of Health, the Department for Children, Schools and Families. I assure hon.
Members that they will listen closely to this debate. We in the Wales Office will play our full role in liaising with other Government Departments and the Welsh Assembly Government on these issues.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend rightly raised the important issue of a suicide prevention strategy for all Wales. I hope that she will be reassured when I say that the Welsh Assembly Government is as concerned as any to address that issue fully and listen carefully to all representations and this important debate. However, it is for that Government to introduce measures that respond to the situation in Wales. However, I can advise my hon. Friend that the Welsh Assembly Government Minister, Edwina Hart, had, prior to the recent events, commissioned work to examine national strategies on suicide prevention and is firmly seized of the need to respond to these issues in the most effective and coherent manner.
Simon Hughes: The hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs. Moon) rightly mentioned Papyrus. Will the Minister undertake to ensure that the Welsh Assembly Government are fully linked with and supporting Papyrus in Wales, and will he talk to his colleagues in the UK Government to ensure that that happens elsewhere in the UK?
Huw Irranca-Davies: Yes, indeed; the hon. Gentleman makes an important point, and I am happy to give those undertakings. I am of course always ready, as is my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, to meet him and others who share these concerns, while recognising that the Welsh Assembly Government have significant devolved powers in this area and that other Whitehall Departments have a role to play as well.
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