The Blog

We Need to Meet the Vulnerable We've Failed

I was born privileged. Not heir-to-millions-lined-up-for-cabinet privileged, but privileged nonetheless. I was physically and mentally able. I was straight, white and heterosexual. I was raised well by good and loving parents who did not neglect or abuse me. I did not consider these to be great breaks at the time, or for some years afterwards. It was not until my late twenties or even early thirties that I had met enough people born without such advantages to realise how lucky I had been. More recently it has become evident that plenty of people, most people perhaps, still aren't aware of this fact. They vulnerable are spoken about it vague terms generally but not much, certainly not enough, is said about how they represent our collective failure.

I knew a man who died as a result of alcoholism. This is a contentious problem easily put down to the weakness or failure of the individual and the assertion that addiction is an illness remains controversial. By the time I met him he was already coping with the fact that as a child he had found his brother hanging dead from a noose in the ceiling. I don't know how you process that. But he was damned from birth because he was gay. Nothing wrong with being gay, but his parents couldn't accept that. Their justification was religious and if he ever went to worship with them he was made to sit at the back by himself. We have been stunned recently by a father who will defend his convicted rapist son. Here is a child having to discover that a harmless factor of his DNA, affecting his choice of who to love, was something in him that made his own parents reject him.

A good friend of mine suffers a range of physical disabilities. She has chronic asthma, so she is out of breath by the time she gets to the top of her stairs. She cannot see at all on her right hand side (although since she has the complete use of one eye this does not quality as partial sight). She has a condition that means she has weak joints, immune-defficiency, constant fatigue and permanent pain. She is on thirteen different medications, suffers routine kidney infections and has been told she cannot work more than eight hours a day. She has been job hunting for years since her health meant she had to leave her last post. She can fall and hurt herself or get lost in unfamiliar environments because she has no depth perception. She has been passing out for some years but nobody can work out why. She gets counselling for emotional trauma but this is paid for privately by her family. After two years of applying and appealing DWP pays her £175 month.

I don't have much experience of how ethnicity affects people, but I have seen more mental health problems than eighteen year old me could possibly have imagined. I knew a woman who's alcoholic husband had made three suicide attempts and whose only source of support was a self-health group run by a couple of social workers in their own time. I have met, through my wife, numerous survivors of child abuse. People to whom immeasurably damage was done at their most vulnerable time in their lives. Because of this deep trauma many are self-harmers or suicide risks. All require the kind of support that the country does not seem willing or available to provide. At least one woman I know has been told to phone a special helpline if she felt suicidal, and frequently got no answer. By the time you read this it will a miracle if she is even still alive.

This is not a call for change at the top. The wealthiest and most powerful didn't get where they are exclusively by caring about other people. This is a call for change in the middle. For everyone who thinks that the world is OK as it is. For everyone who thinks that austerity is just something we can all cope with if we just tighten our belts. For everyone who thinks that social mobility extends to everyone and that people who can't get themselves going have only themselves to blame. You need to see this. You need to recognise and understand this. This is our country, our society, our fault. We need to make it better.