Parliament hears calls for a national strategy on multiple needs

This week, MEAM has called for cross-government action on multiple needs in Parliament.

Photo: grahamvphoto on flickr (used under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Photo by grahamvphoto (used under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

On Monday, we gave evidence to an inquiry into homelessness led by the Communities and Local Government Select Committee. We are delighted that the Committee recognises the importance of tackling multiple needs and that they committed a whole session to exploring these issues.

During the hearing, our director Oliver Hilbery and Homeless Link’s Head of Policy Helen Mathie answered MPs’ questions on the experiences of homeless people with multiple needs and the role of services in supporting individuals. The session also featured representatives from Agenda, the alliance for women and girls at risk, and the No Recourse to Public Funds Network.

Towards the end of the session, MEAM called on the government to set out a national strategy for how it can incentivise coordinated services for people with multiple needs in local areas across the country, and ensure that all devolution deals reflect the challenges faced by this group.

The video and transcript of the session is available online.

Then, on Wednesday, MEAM Chair Baroness Tyler of Enfield spoke in a Lord’s debate on the government’s forthcoming Life Chances Strategy.  Baroness Tyler welcomed the Prime Minister’s commitment to develop a richer picture of how social problems combine, how they reinforce each other, and how they can manifest themselves through someone’s life.

Making clear the links between adverse childhood experiences and the problems of multiple needs that individuals face in later life, Baroness Tyler called for the forthcoming Life Chances Strategy to tackle underlying issues of inequality, directly address multiple disadvantage faced by adults, and support parents and families.

Baroness Tyler noted in her speech that it is increasingly the case that government policy within departmental silos is calling for a more coordinated approach.  However, there remains no national cross-departmental strategy to support and incentivise local areas to develop better responses for people with multiple needs, despite evidence showing the benefits that this can bring to individuals, communities and the public purse.

Baroness Tyler asked the Minister, Baroness Altmann, what plans the government has to put an overarching strategy on multiple needs in place. In summing up, the Minister stated that the Life Chances strategy will be a cross-government initiative.

The video and transcript of the debate are available online (debate starts at 16:13:35; Baroness Tyler’s speech at 16:23:35).

The contributions this week represent positive progress towards a national strategy on multiple needs. MEAM looks forward to continuing to work with parliamentarians and policymakers on this issue, drawing on our local experience in over 25 areas across the country and the important insights of people with experience of multiple needs.

New research shows scale and complexity of destitution in the UK

Sam Thomas (@iamsamthomas)

In an important report published today, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation provides stark new evidence on the scale of destitution in the UK. Based on detailed research by colleagues at Heriot-Watt University, it reveals that 1.25 million individuals annually find themselves unable to afford the basic essentials they need to eat, keep clean and stay warm and dry.

Destitution in the UK

Within this group, around a third have slept rough, begged or accessed a service intended to support complex needs such as substance misuse, mental ill health and contact with the Criminal Justice System. These issues are a huge part of the picture of destitution in the UK, and MEAM was glad to be involved in the research as a member of the advisory group.

The research shows that there are few straightforward reasons for why people become destitute. Income plays a large part: delays or interruptions to benefits, as well as debt and arrears payments, loom large in the findings. But for those with the most complex needs, being unable to afford life’s basics is often the result of a more complex web of factors, including relationship breakdown and domestic violence.

The research identifies that people with more complex needs (which includes many of the people that MEAM and its partners work to support) experience longer periods of destitution and sometimes have no money to hand for months or even years. This is also true for migrants, particularly those claiming asylum. People in these situations can become incredibly isolated, and lacking friends or a network of support become reliant on benefits, voluntary services and sometimes begging.

The study found that most people who are fit for work see employment as the best route out of destitution. However, for most, the immediate challenge is resolving issues with their benefit claims and, particularly for those with the most complex needs, finding appropriate accommodation and support to address the wider issues in their lives. Even those who are able to improve their situation remained vulnerable to sudden changes in circumstances, such as their benefit entitlements.

The research highlights the importance of ensuring people are properly supported by the benefits system, which should be the first line of support for people who are destitute. This has clear parallels with MEAM’s current work on employment support. However, it also shows that without effective support for the underlying problems that lead to destitution, people will struggle to move on.

The research is invaluable in highlighting both the scale of the problem, and the complexity of the response that’s needed. There are already good examples of how local areas (such as those we support in using the MEAM Approach) can help people address the long-term issues that they face – but this report shows how much more work there is to do. We hope it is read widely and carefully, and look forward to collaborating more with the JRF on these issues as their work develops.

Statement on MEAM and Collective Voice

We are pleased to announce that Collective Voice has become an associate of Making Every Adult Matter (MEAM), the national coalition of Clinks, Homeless Link and Mind working to improve policy and services for people with multiple needs.

Following the closure of DrugScope, Collective Voice was formed last year by eight of the country’s largest voluntary sector drug and alcohol treatment and recovery service providers to ensure that the voice of the drug and alcohol sector and the individuals who use these services are represented.

Today’s announcement extends existing joint-working between MEAM and Collective Voice and establishes a route for Collective Voice to become a full member of the MEAM coalition over time.  From 1 April 2016, Paul Hayes (director of Collective Voice) will attend meetings of the MEAM Programme Board in a non-voting capacity and MEAM (over time and subject to funding) will begin to ‘embed’ staff resource in Collective Voice.

Baroness Tyler, chair of the MEAM coalition, said:

“We are delighted to welcome Collective Voice as an associate of the MEAM coalition.  Substance misuse is a central issue for people with multiple needs and since the closure of DrugScope we have worked hard to keep these issues at the heart of our work.  Collective Voice will bring new expertise, insight and reach to the MEAM coalition as we continue to work together to create change in policy and practice for people with multiple needs.”

Karen Biggs, chair of Collective Voice, said:

“We are very pleased to become an associate of the MEAM coalition.  The majority of individuals using substance misuse services have a wide range of other needs.  To support them we need to influence policy and services across different sectors and MEAM will provide excellent links across criminal justice, homelessness and mental health.”

Interesting things on drugs and alcohol, February 2016

Andrew Brown (@andrewbrown365) offers his monthly round-up of new statistics on drugs and alcohol. Amongst other topics, it features new data on drink and drug-driving, as well as evidence on the link between substance misuse and women’s experiences of violence or abuse.

PM’s social agenda has sophisticated ambitions but could go further

Sam Thomas (@iamsamthomas)

On Monday David Cameron made a major speech on social policy, setting out an ambitious agenda for his government’s forthcoming ‘life chances’ strategy.

Photo: Number Ten (used under CC )

Photo: Georgia Coupe, Crown Copyright (used under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Falling on the same day as the sad news of David Bowie’s death, it received muted media coverage. Press reports focused on welcome mental health and family policies, including £247 million in funding for liaison services in A&E departments. Mind’s CEO Paul Farmer, watching the speech, remarked it was the first on mental health made by a serving PM – a significant landmark (read Mind’s response).

The speech also featured a long section on drug and alcohol problems, in which the PM addressed both the stigma that exists around substance misuse, and the complexity of addiction:

“Let’s be honest: when we hear the words ‘drug addict’ or ‘alcoholic’, there is still such a stigma that comes attached. Still a view that addiction is simply a question of will, a sense that it’s simply about self-control, a feeling that it’s somehow shameful if we admit to having a problem. We see it as weakness. It isn’t. Seeking help is strength.”

Perhaps just as importantly, he emphasised that these problems don’t exist in isolation:

“We need a more social approach. One where we develop a richer picture of how social problems combine, of how they reinforce each other, how they can manifest themselves throughout someone’s life and how the opportunity gap gets generated as a result.”

To see these messages in a major speech from a Prime Minister is very encouraging. The life chances strategy (which is still under development) could have a significant impact on people with multiple needs. However, to do so, it will need to consider two things in more detail:

Firstly, there’s a gap between the bold ideas the speech develops – that substance misuse, mental health problems, family breakdown and other issues interact and reinforce each other – and the more single-issue policy solutions announced yesterday, which address those problems separately.

For instance, there’s a promised £30 million social investment fund to support innovation in drug and alcohol treatment. This funding is welcome, but given that over half the people receiving treatment for a drug or alcohol problem also have problems with homelessness or offending, and a majority experience mental ill health, treatment must be linked to action on these other issues. A starting point would be to ensure this funding was targeted at supporting people whose substance misuse problems are compounded by other challenges.

Secondly, the background assumptions about poverty and its sources are controversial. The PM’s conviction – strongly expressed in the speech – is that social issues such as substance misuse and family breakdown lead to and reinforce poverty. However, this argument is hard to sustain in the face of the evidence, not least from the Hard Edges study on severe and multiple disadvantage, that poverty is primarily a cause, not a symptom of social problems.

With two Select Committees currently inviting evidence to inform the Life Chances strategy there will be plenty of opportunities to engage with the ideas expressed in the speech, and to make the case for a more cohesive approach to tackling them.

One Conservative commentator offers that “this may be the Prime Minister’s last major intervention on social justice” before the European referendum dominates his government’s agenda. If that proves the case, it’s all the more important that some of the promising ideas here are followed through.

Sam leads policy work across the MEAM coalition, and manages Voices from the Frontline.