This is why I am sleeping rough outside the party conferences

As Ed, Dave and Nick battle it out for your vote, I’ll be speaking to the homeless people who suffer under this woeful lack of leadership

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The Independent Online

I’ve set off to Manchester for the Labour party conference. I’ll be travelling there by train, and then on Thursday, I’ll stick my thumb out on the M6, and hitch-hike down to Birmingham, for the Conservative conference.

The Labour party conference is a bit of a get together, and to be honest, like many who attend I expect to be feeling and looking a bit rough by the time I try to hitch down to Birmingham.

But unlike the politicians, I won’t though be feeling rough because I’ve partaken in any of the hospitality events hosted at the conference.  There will be no champagne or canapés for me, nor any of the other people I will be talking to whilst in Manchester, Birmingham, and later, Glasgow for the Lib Dem conference.  

I, like tens of thousands of people, will be sleeping rough on the streets of these major cities.  Whilst the party faithful inside slap the backs of the leaders that have led us, as one of the richest nations in the world, to one of the worst mental health care provisions in Europe, I’ll be talking to the people on the streets, who suffer under this woeful lack of leadership.

Particularly, I’ll be looking to speak to people who, like myself, are veterans of the armed forces, and suffer with mental illness.

I have bipolar disorder, although I prefer to call it manic depression, for reasons I go into on my regular blog.  My illness first manifested itself during my time in Former Yugoslavia, although remained undiagnosed for 15 years.  My genetic predisposition being triggered by the stresses of serving in a war zone.

Combat Stress, the charity for veterans of war, estimate that it takes on average 14 years for a serviceman with mental illness to be diagnosed post service, and last year, it was estimated that 9,000 ex-servicemen sleep rough on the streets of the UK.

As Ed Miliband makes his key note speech today, promising to raise the minimum wage to £8 per hour over the next five years, and hoping to make the NHS a key battling ground in the forthcoming election, I’ll be talking to the people most affected by the erosion of mental health services in the UK, both veterans and others.  I’ll be asking about their experiences, and asking how they feel things can be improved.

As Ed, Dave and Nick battle it out for your vote, with a series of promises that it can get better, I’ll be asking the homeless people that I meet, why, after decades of promises from politicians that things will get better, things haven’t improved, and instead have worsened for them as individuals?

Yesterday evening, I said goodbye to my little girl for a couple of weeks.  I know that there is a core difference between the real rough sleepers and me: I will be coming home at the end of the party conference season. I know that while I am away, my child will have a safe bed to sleep in, unlike the estimated 2,000 families who are living in bed and breakfast accommodation tonight, not knowing where they will be tomorrow.

So as you listen to the politicians telling you how things can only get better under their leadership, do take a moment to think about the people for whom it hasn’t got better. Think about their leadership, and whether you would want them in power, if you became mentally ill, as one in four people do at some point in their lives, or if you became one of the hundred thousand people in the UK who do not know where they are sleeping tonight.