Clare Allen is my new hero. And if you read this article you may know why: A manifesto for ending mental health stigma. In it she states that the next government must repeal the law that stops her from standing for parliament on the grounds that she has previously been sectioned and she lists her manifesto for investing in well-being; overhauling the benefits system and giving more to carers.
I was disgusted when I came to this country. Suddenly my very private and chronic struggle became fair game as employers required you to fill in mental health questionnaires at first interviews. In South Africa, you can't be seen to have discriminated on candidates on the basis of age, race, gender, sexual preference, creed or religion; you can't ask questions regarding chronic or mental illnesses at interviews and you're not allowed to ask female candidates about their plans for child bearing. There are strict equal opportunities laws and a move from affirmative action to Black Economic Empowerment. It is not always applied correctly but the Labour Guide is always there to give you free advice if you feel you have been discriminated against.
I had a wonderful interview shortly after I got to the UK. I had been told I had the job and we discussed my starting date. I was given a piece of paper to fill in before I left - a mental health questionnaire. I answered truthfully, listing my chronic but mild and manageable disorder and was later told by the agent that I was not a suitable fit for the position.
I realised then that I had come from a country where the constitution is based on a charter of human rights, where the questionnaire itself would have been illegal, never mind the decision reached on the basis of it. I never, ever mentioned the disorder again and in fact, this is probably the first time I am mentioning it publicly in the 30 months since I have been here.
Clare Allen is my hero because people like her fight for the rights of the mentally ill and they give them a voice, breaking the silence.
The excellent news and related to the above is that The Equality Bill (2010) was passed through Parliament yesterday and has made pre-employment questionnaires illegal.
“A key issue in the Act is the harmonisation and extension of discrimination law to cover age, disability, sex, gender reassignment, sexual orientation, race, religion or belief and, in many but not all instances, marriage and civil partnerships. ‘Disability related' discrimination will be replaced with a prohibition on discriminating against a disabled person by treating them unfavourably where that treatment is not a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.
Another new provision in the Act prohibits employers asking job applicants questions about their health and whether they have a disability, other than in specified circumstances (including whether the applicant will be able to carry out a function that is intrinsic to the work concerned). Employers will still be entitled to screen applicants about health after making a job offer” - HRMagazine.co.uk.
Finally. Welcome to the 21st Century Great Britain.