Lords pay tribute to Samaritans and call for support on Freecall

A parliamentary debate in the House of Lords on Tuesday 23 April saw tributes paid to the work of Samaritans volunteers to mark our 60th anniversary year, and an appeal to support the roll-out of our free-to-call number.

The debate was tabled by the former Chair of the Press Complaints Commission, Baroness Buscombe, who told the committee of peers from all sides of the House of “60 years of amazing support for people from all walks of life who are trying to cope through a critical period in their lives” which, over the years, has seen more than 127,000 volunteers answer over 115 million calls for help, and that it “all began with one man, Chad Varah, and one phone in one room in a church in the City of London”.

Baroness Buscombe, along with other senior peers including the former Chairman of the BBC, Lord Grade, and the shadow Leader of the House of Lords, Baroness Royall, all expressed concern about the current funding gap that needs to be resolved before the Samaritans Freecall number can be fully launched. They called on the government, Ofcom and the telecoms companies to work together to find a way of ensuring that the initiative can be made financially viable.

Other issues raised included the Department of Health’s new strategy to prevent suicide in England, and the recommendations of a recent report by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Suicide and Self-harm Prevention which said that local authorities should be required to develop their own local suicide prevention plans to support interventions in their area.

Responding on behalf of the government, the health minister, Earl Howe, said that the Department of Health was supporting Samaritans to facilitate the Call for Action initiative for Suicide Prevention which has been joined by over 50 national organisations. He highlighted the action the government was taking through the national suicide prevention strategy and also pledged to open further discussions with the Lords regarding the Freecall issue.  

Watch the debate or read the transcript