About Multiple Disadvantage

People facing multiple disadvantage experience a combination of problems including homelessness, substance misuse, contact with the criminal justice system and mental ill health. They fall through the gaps between services and systems, making it harder for them to address their problems and lead fulfilling lives.

It is estimated that 58,000 people face problems of homelessness, substance misuse and offending in any one year. Within this group, a majority will have experienced mental health problems.


Hard Edges: Mapping Severe and Multiple Disadvantage in England (Lankelly Chase, 2015)

Women are under-represented in these figures, but despite this face significant and distinct challenges which need to be met. Similarly, people from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities experience a range of social inequalities which contribute to their experience of multiple disadvantage.

Why does it matter?

Local services often fail to provide appropriate support for people facing multiple disadvantage, as in most cases they are designed to deal with one problem at a time and to support people with single, severe conditions. This can mean that people experiencing multiple disadvantage are more likely to access emergency, rather than planned services, such as going to accident and emergency rather than the local GP.  Accessing services in this way is costly: estimates suggest that costs for 58,000 people are between £1.1 billion and £2.1 billion per year.

People with multiple disadvantage are likely to live in poverty and experience stigma, discrimination, isolation and loneliness. They tend to be known to everyone, but often are served by no one as they are perceived to be ‘hard to reach’ or ‘not my responsibility.’ This can make services seem unhelpful and uncaring to someone experiencing multiple disadvantage who is seeking help.

What is being done to change this?

The status quo on multiple disadvantage is unacceptable.

Evidence has shown that better coordinated interventions from statutory and voluntary agencies can improve people’s lives and reduce the use and cost of crisis services. But while some local areas are making progress on better coordinated interventions, others are not. In many local areas, services continue to operate in isolation; people with experience of multiple disadvantage continue to have limited power over the decisions that affect them; and the national policy environment often fails to promote collaborative ways of working.

By supporting local partnerships, and working alongside national and local policymakers, MEAM is creating change in policy and services and improving the lives of people facing multiple disadvantage.