Adenike Adebiyi, External Affairs Intern, Money and Mental Health

There is more to Parliament than what’s on TV

10 May 2019

In my first blog for Money and Mental Health, I wrote about being really keen to focus on mental health campaigning from a policy level and structural perspective, rather than from the individual perspective I’d been used to. Just over three months in, I’m pleased to say I have indeed been getting what I wished for. Although mental health has been a topic of national conversation for some time now, it still continues to (pleasantly) surprise me that national decision makers are having these conversations when and where it matters: Parliament.

Representation under the radar

At university, much of what I learnt about Parliament focused on the formalities of passing laws and holding Government to account. Both inside and outside the classroom, the typical mental image of British politics is the theatrics of Chamber debates and PMQs (and, of course, the current Brexit back ‘n’ forth!). Those who are more politically keen might even think of the work of select committees in scrutinising Government activity. But my time so far at Money and Mental Health has exposed me to the less visible — but nevertheless important —  events and activity of Parliament, like the work of APPGs.

All about All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs)

APPGs are informal groups where MPs can collaborate on a cross-party basis on particular issues, or represent the interests of a particular group, place or activity. Unsurprisingly, APPGs don’t get as much attention as select committees because they don’t share the same official status – they can’t, for instance, demand that Government acknowledge or respond to their research and recommendations. Select committee evidence sessions are also generally broadcasted live on Parliament TV and transcribed on Hansard, while those of APPGs aren’t, so they’re often literally under the radar.

Still, I think APPGs are underrated. With the right combination of passion on the part of MPs, and a focused agenda, they can have a value for campaigners that is worth greater appreciation.

This week in Parliament

This past week alone I attended two meetings which give me reason to be excited. On Tuesday, the APPG on Debt and Personal Finance brought together the likes of John Glen MP, who is Economic Secretary to the Treasury, and Christopher Woolard, Director of Strategy and Competition at the Financial Conduct Authority, to discuss what’s being done to create fairer credit markets. I particularly appreciated the Treasury’s reiterated commitment to furthering debt respite for people in mental health crisis. There was also discussion about how vulnerable customers, including people with mental health problems, might be better protected, both in terms of the kinds of credit available to them, and the ways in which financial data can be used for rather than against them.

The following day, our Chief Executive, Helen Undy, gave evidence at an APPG on Gambling Related Harm meeting, as part of their inquiry on the impact of online gambling. She spoke about the relationship between mental health and problem gambling, as well as the changes we’d like to see to help people in that situation, such as card providers introducing merchant category code blocks (for example, to enable people to specifically block all gambling transactions on their cards).

This was one of many gambling-related meetings and events that have taken place in and around Parliament recently, which demonstrates the enthusiasm with which regulators, firms and politicians alike are approaching the issue. Culture, Media and Sport Minister Mims Davies, who spoke at the recent launch of the National Strategy to Reduce Gambling Harms, will also appear before the APPG at its final meeting for this inquiry. So, although APPGs aren’t as powerful and visible as select committees, they are nevertheless influential.

A positive perspective on Parliament

In short, there is more happening in Parliament than the polarised politics we see on TV, and it’s helpful to remember that it’s not all doom, gloom and division in Westminster. The voices of people struggling with debt and mental health problems are being heard, even when we don’t hear much about it in the media.