HIV campaigning is for life, not just for an election
After what was expected to be a much tighter contest the Conservatives have formed a government with a small majority. The Scottish National Party (SNP) made a huge dent in Labour’s representation and there is only a small smattering of Lib Dem yellow on the benches. The look and feel of parliament will be very different from now on – and this will affect how it works. So what might this mean for the UK’s response to HIV and in particular NAT’s key campaigning points leading up to the election? Let’s look at them one by one.
1. Retain the protections set out in the Human Rights Act.
The Conservative plan to abolish the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights was announced well before the election. To have the desired effect the Government will also have to change our relationship with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Michael Gove MP is now at the helm at the Ministry of Justice and this is a top priority for him.
NAT opposes getting rid of the Human Rights Act and, most critically, we want to make sure that the protections it offers people are not watered down. Cross-party opposition and debate will be crucial to keeping the current Act or to ensure any British Bill of Rights is as strong as possible.
2. Introduce compulsory Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) for all schools, which is inclusive of LGBT young people.
While the Conservative party has not issued a statement of support for statutory SRE in all schools (preferring to give academies and free schools greater flexibility), they have expressed confidence in the benefits of Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) education.
Nicky Morgan MP is continuing as Education Secretary and as Minister for Equalities and Women. She has demonstrated an interest in the experiences of LGBT pupils in school and committed funds to tackling homophobic bullying, citing the findings of our Boys who like boys report in the process. We hope that this, and the commitment to the issue from other parties, will keep this subject high on the political agenda. We will certainly be doing everything in our power to make this happen.
3. Make HIV prevention a national public health priority.
This applies in particular to England and relates in part to what will happen with the National HIV Prevention Programme. NAT will continue to work with the relevant Minister, Jane Ellison MP, who previously reversed a decision to halve funding for the programme for the current year following an NAT campaign.
Access to PrEP is a hot issue and we continue to urge the NHS to commit resource to it. Political pressure will inevitably help. With revelations that HIV prevention and testing funding is a fraction of what it was even in 2001/02, campaigning for HIV prevention activity at a local level is also a top priority. NAT will look to work with Public Health England (PHE) to support local authorities to better respond to their local prevention needs.
4. End HIV stigma in health and social care settings.
The NHS has limited resource and competing pressures. NAT will be working with NHS Trusts in high prevalence areas to find ways to tackle HIV stigma and to ensure use of our training resources wherever possible. Top line Government commitment to this issue would be beneficial, however, we also need to make sure this filters down to all areas of the NHS.
5. Ensure that people affected by HIV-related sickness or disability have the support they need.
The Conservatives have pledged to save a further £12bn on welfare. How these cuts will be distributed is not yet clear but NAT and the Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) will work together to assess the impact of continuing welfare reform. We previously asked candidates to commit to the DBC’s Five Things You And Your Party Can Do For Disabled People. With welfare coming under increased scrutiny we now need to work to shift discussion from a negative one to one which positively recognises the rights and needs of disabled people.
We have to continue to get the correct information on HIV out there and to challenge damaging rhetoric fuelled by prejudices. We also need to think about how we can work with the new Government, make effective use of an increasingly diverse parliament, and at the same time champion the rights of people living with HIV. These issues don’t go away with the election, and neither do we.