Tax online giants to help kids’ mental health, say Lib Dems

Getty Images A mental health support worker comforts a primary school child

The Liberal Democrats have said they would increase taxes on social media giants and companies like Amazon and Google to fund mental health professionals for all England’s state schools, if they win the general election.

The new workforce would be paid for by tripling the amount such companies pay in what is known as the Digital Services Tax.

Recent NHS stats show nearly 340,000 children and young people are currently on waiting lists to access mental health services in England.

The Conservatives said they had already increased training places for mental health nurses, while Labour said it would put mental health support in every school.

One in five children and young people aged between eight and 25 had a “probable mental disorder” last year, according to the latest NHS report.

At the moment there is a range of support for pupils’ mental health that schools can access, including funding for training existing teaching staff and access to external mental health support teams who provide early intervention on issues such as anxiety. The teams are due to reach half of schools by March 2025.

NHS data compiled by the House of Commons Library for the Liberal Democrats found that 336,886 under-18s were still waiting for their first appointment with a mental health professional in the three months to the end of March this year.

They found the average waiting time nationally was just over six months (187 days), but with wide regional variety. Children and young people in some areas like St Helens in Merseyside are waiting more than double that (444 days).

Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman Munira Wilson said there was a “mental health crisis” among children.

Asked on BBC Breakfast where the mental health professionals would come from, Ms Wilson said: “There are adults who are working in counselling [and] in mental health, who have said that they would be willing to get the extra training to be able to work with children and young people.

“Of course we would need to train more, they wouldn’t be available overnight.”

Ms Wilson said tripling the Digital Services Tax “would more than pay for this policy”.

Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey said social media giants were “such a big part of the problem”.

Their manifesto promise would mean state-funded school governing bodies had a duty to provide access to a qualified mental health practitioner or a school counsellor, funded by central government. Smaller schools with 100 or fewer pupils could share access to the same person.

The Digital Services Tax was introduced in April 2020 and affects large multinational enterprises who run social media services, online search engines or an online marketplace for UK consumers.

It is a 2% tax on companies with revenues of more than £500m worldwide and £25m in the UK.

The Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts that the tax will raise about £760m in 2024-25, so trebling the rate is estimated to raise an extra £1.5bn.

The Conservative Minister for Mental Health Maria Caulfield said: “We have also nearly doubled the number of training places for mental health nursing to ensure we have the specialist workforce we need to care for patients in the long-term.”

Labour’s health secretary Wes Streeting said: “Labour will put mental health support in every school and hubs in every community, paid for by abolishing tax breaks for private schools.”


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