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Miliband takes aim at Clarkson over mental illness

Ed Miliband is expanding his One Nation theme today in his first major speech since Labour Party conference and is taking aim at those who belittle people suffering from mental illness.

He will criticise Jeremy Clarkson and Janet Street-Porter for “lazy caricatures” the pair have made in comments and say they are demeaning those with mental health issues and will liken cheap attacks on sufferers to racism, sexism and homophobia.

It is bold speech designed to set out his plan to rebuild Britain as one nation and will propose rewriting the NHS constitution to guarantee that mentally ill people have access to therapies in the same way as the physically ill are provided with drugs and treatment.

With the cost of mental illness to the NHS believed to be around £10bn, Miliband will announce he has set up a taskforce – led by Stephen O’Brien, the chairman of Barts Health NHS Trust and vice-president of Business in the Community – to draw up a strategic plan for mental health in society, in the hope that the next Labour government can begin work immediately on implementing reform.

He will warn that failure to do so will place a huge financial burden on our NHS in what is potentially the biggest unaddressed health challenge of our age.

He will say that the challenge of mental health affects people rich and poor, North and South, young and old. Just as Benjamin Disraeli addressed the national challenge of sanitation in the 19th century to make Britain One Nation – and as Britain addressed physical health in the 20th century with the foundation of the NHS – we must address mental health in the 21st century.

“One in four of us will have a mental illness at some point in our lifetime. It is the biggest unaddressed health challenge of our age. There are so many people in Britain today who could be treated but who are intimidated from seeking help. And so many people who need support but who believe that no-one will care.

“For far too long our leading politicians have been far too silent about mental health, part of a taboo running across our society which infects both our culture and our politics. It is a taboo which not only blights the lives of millions but also puts severe strain on the funding of our NHS and threatens Britain’s ability to pay our way in the world. It is a taboo which must be broken if we are to rebuild Britain as One Nation.”

Lazy caricatures

“There are still people who abuse the privilege of their celebrity to insult, demean and belittle others such as when Janet Street-Porter says that depression is the latest must-have accessory promoted by the misery movement. Jeremy Clarkson at least acknowledges the tragedy of people who end their own life but then goes on to dismisses them as ‘Johnny Suicides’ whose bodies should be left on train tracks rather than delay journeys.

“Just as we joined the fight against racism, against sexism and against homophobia, so we should join the fight against this form of intolerance. It is not acceptable, it costs Britain dear, and it has to change.”