Author Archives: Kirsten Johnson

Compassion Fatigue? Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children

On Wednesday there was the announcement that we would not take any more child refugees. Noticeable that the government released this statement the same day of the Brexit vote! And this story was not even on front pages yesterday.

Lib Dems had campaigned for the UK to take 3000 unaccompanied minors. Many others lobbied, including Lord Alf Dubs, and this resulted in the so-called Dubs amendment to the Immigration Act 2016.

Where is our compassion? Should we not be taking in the most vulnerable victims of horrendous conflicts that have caused children to flee their own country? This saga has gone on for too long, and now the news that the UK will not accept more. The 350 children we will have taken by the end of March is far fewer than other countries have done. Based on our size and wealth, we should feel an obligation to take so many more children. But we don’t seem to have a heart anymore.

I was at a seminar on Wednesday convened by Lord Roberts in the House of Lords about how to better support unaccompanied asylum seeking children. Representatives from the Refugee Council, Amnesty, UNICEF and the Immigration Law Practitioners Association all spoke. This was before the news broke on not taking any more refugee children. The ideas of what the UK should do (and the assumption was that we would be taking more children) were:

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One mental health first aider per school is not enough

I welcomed Theresa May’s announcement on Monday in which she said “every secondary school in the country to be offered mental health first aid training”. MHFA England has campaigned for many years to get school staff trained in Mental Health First Aid and are thrilled that there will be at least one Mental Health First Aider in each secondary school.

But it doesn’t go far enough. Every single teacher, as part of their teacher training course, should be trained in Mental Health First Aid.

Poppy Jaman, CEO of MHFA England, said:

Mental ill health in young people is a growing health concern, with half of all lifetime cases of mental health issues starting by the age of 14.

There is a bespoke MHFA England course called Youth Mental Health First Aid which could be modified for teacher training. A short course could change a young person’s life.

A teacher overseeing a class of 30+ pupils needs to have the skills to recognise early warning signs of mental ill-health. One first aider per school can help in moments of crisis, but cannot possibly pick up all the mental health warning signs within the school population. A large part of the MHFA course is in learning about various mental health problems (such as stress, anxiety, depression, self-harm, suicide ideation, psychosis) and how to intervene early on.

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The Green Agenda: Lib Dems in Business dinner

The environment was our theme at the Liberal Democrats in Business dinner in Oxford last night (after a session of polling-day phone banking for Sarah Olney!).

We were pleased to welcome as speakers Baroness Kate Parminter, Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader in the Lords and Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and Dr Imad Ahmed of the Department of Earth Sciences, Oxford University.

Dr Ahmed spoke of recent research into nano-particles in air pollution and how they affect our brains. The study, and how air pollution is a possible cause of Alzheimer’s, has been reported here in the UK and around the world.

Just in the news today is reporting of a move by major cities to ban diesel vehicles. This is due to their production of particulate matter (PM) and nitrous oxide (NOx). Dr Ahmed, in his talk, showed pictures of the effect of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) on the brain.

The link between our health and the air we breathe was also made by Kate Parminter. Baroness Parminter spoke to us on environmental policy and what we should be doing now.

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Ratifying the Istanbul Convention

Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. It is also the start of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Campaign which runs to December 10th, Human Rights Day. Two women each week are killed by a male partner here in the UK. One in four women in the UK (one in three internationally) experience abuse. Whilst the majority of victims are women, 700,000 men each year suffer domestic violence.

The Istanbul Convention, which the UK Government has signed but not ratified, was devised to tackle all forms of violence against women and domestic abuse worldwide. The full title, the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combatting Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, covers all forms of violence against women and within domestic situations (including men, women and children).

As it happens, I was present at a conference on Violence and Human Rights in Istanbul back in 2012, the year after Istanbul Convention was written. Hearing Turkish academics and lawyers talk about domestic violence, often from a personal point of view which has influenced their public advocacy, was enlightening and brought home to me the global nature of this issue. 

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Please write to your MP – Parity of Esteem for Mental and Physical First Aid

Writing a blog on Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) as a 2015 General Election candidate set off a string of events. I was contacted by MHFA England CEO Poppy Jaman and we met to discuss her vision of parity of esteem in mental and physical first aid.

kirsten-johnson-norman-lamb

Several emails and months later, I met with Norman Lamb MP to ask him to consider how we could change the law so that health and safety legislation which referenced First Aid could include mental as well as physical health. Norman was enthusiastic about pursuing this, and wrote to the Department of Work and Pensions, asking for the government to look into amending current First Aid legislation.

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Your Liberal Britain – Oxford East Event

Your Liberal BritainWhen asked to chair a meeting in Oxford East for the Your Liberal Britain initiative my heart sank. Having been through all the Lib Dem soul-searching last year, written a post-election blog, My Vision, and an Agenda 2020 essay, the last thing I wanted was more philosophy and discussion on values. But I agreed to host and I’m glad I did!

The event attracted a room full of people, more than our usual events, and the majority of the audience were new members. They hadn’t yet gone through the existential angst of figuring out our party’s identity and the way forward. They were fresh, full of ideas and raring to go!

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Listening, not just hearing

I have had several requests through facebook from voters on both sides of the EU issue on how to find a healthy, positive way forward. As deeply upset as many of us still are, it is difficult to think in positive, helpful terms when there still so much anger about this referendum taking place at all.

But I have put some thought into this and wish to share some ideas. In conflict resolution and mediation, lot of weight is placed on listening. This is a deep kind of listening, not one in which words are heard and then our point of view put forward, ‘but, but, but….’ Having done a fair bit of EU speaking and hustings, I am familiar with the riposte and parry required in refuting arguments and arguing a case.

Deep listening is understanding what is behind the words a person is saying. Many have suggested that much of the ‘leave’ vote was an anti-establishment vote, not an anti-EU vote. Tim Farron has pointed out that worries over housing, lack of school places and an under-resourced NHS were salient factors in the ‘leave’ vote.

I would further suggest that fear is behind many of the views of those who voted against the referendum. We live in a global world, a shrinking world, one that is quickly changing with technological advances. Those who voted leave, among them the majority older people, I suggest would like a return to a simpler world of pen and paper, not email, where everyone knows everyone in the village and stays there their entire life. But that is not the world young people live in – we train in different cities and countries, we work around the UK and in the rest of the world, we fall in love and have relationships which transcend borders. Younger people understand and embrace a fluid, global world. Many older people are frightened by it.

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