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We'll All Be Losers If We Don't Solve Inequality

04/08/2016 09:09

In her first speech as Prime Minister Theresa May set out her priorities with social justice, mental health and reducing inequalities among them. She talked about her mission of making Britain work for everyone, not just for the privileged few, and of giving people who are struggling more control over their lives.

These are welcome overtures. But thousands of vulnerable people continue to face inequality despite consecutive Prime Ministers setting laudable goals for change.

I've spent my career working with people and communities to deliver support for those most in need. However as inequality continues to rise, both in the financial sense and in regards to opportunity, we need a government that is more ambitious for those less able to be heard. They must also ensure those in charge of public services are willing and committed to putting aside their own agendas, self-interests and egos.

Here at Turning Point, we engaged with 65,000 people last year with issues ranging from substance misuse and mental health problems, to learning disabilities and those with offending behaviour.

We support many people on the very margins of society, the majority of which have multiple needs that require addressing at the same time. They may have a mental health issue while struggling with alcohol dependency or a drug habit and be homeless, unemployed and just out of prison.

This week Turning Point has published a new report on the challenges facing these people with 'co-existing' needs, namely those experiencing both substance misuse and mental health issues. According to available data, up to nearly two in five people in psychiatric units or other forms of secondary mental health care have a dual diagnosis.

The figure is up to fifteen percent for those receiving treatment for substance misuse. The challenges these people face are many but include being turned away from services because none can deal with all their difficulties under one roof. They are also at higher risk of relapse, being readmitted to hospital and suicide.

It provides a useful reminder that improving life chances doesn't just mean ensuring 18-year-olds get a place at university. It's about so much more. It's about motivating a 30-year-old on a sink estate to care enough about himself to want to end his drug habit. Or intervening early enough so a 10-year-old girl, whose parents have chronic alcohol issues, has the chance to pursue her goal of becoming a doctor and without enduring mental health problems.

And this is why change and a shift in the way public services are commissioned and led is vital. Imagine you suffer from depression and use alcohol as well as drugs to numb yourself from life's realities. You don't know how to access help, and when you do it's because you've reached crisis point. But then you discover you're excluded because you drink too much or your mental health condition isn't 'bad enough' to qualify for support.

There are many people out there like this who are denied the opportunity of a better life because they fall through the gaps in care. The result is that people end up shunted around from service to service, too often finding themselves in A&E or in the worst case, prison.

If services worked together instead of in silos, this wouldn't happen. Those in charge need to think differently, even if that means handing over power to services or local communities.

They need to involve the very people who will benefit from help in decision-making by asking them what will improve their lives. This will ensure they receive their fair share of community resources, that their human rights are respected and they have the right to equal treatment.

There will always be those who argue life can never be fair, that there will always be winners and losers. What they overlook is that we will all be losers if we continue to fail society's 'invisible' people and not invest in their futures.

Mental health for example costs the economy over £100 billion a year yet gets a miserly 13 percent of the NHS budget. Those with co-existing needs cost the system less but have rarely get the coordinated support they need.

Equality is better for everyone- it means we live in a healthier, safer and more dynamic society. But social justice will only become a reality if we are all willing to embrace change, and start listening to those who could benefit most from our new Prime Minister's vision.

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