29/04/2015 16:51 BST | Updated 29/06/2015 06:59 BST

The Walking Ghosts: The Politics of Modern Britain


Beyond The Ballot is The Huffington Post UK's alternative take on the General Election, taking on the issues too awkward for Westminster. It focuses on the unanswered questions around internet freedom, mental health and housing.

Tommy was first sexually abused when he was eight years old. His father offered him to some of his friends. He is tormented by the shock of being violently penetrated. To save money, social services placed him with his aunt. She used to lock all the rooms in her house, incarcerating him without food. Now, as a 19-year-old, he wanders the streets, sometimes sleeping in doorways and, if he can get away with it, in the cubicle of a railway station toilet. It's warmer than the concrete. 

He considers himself very lucky if a scarce night shelter manages to offer him a bed for the night. Although it means sleeping on a narrow bunk bed, nine to a room, at least he wakes up with his clothes dry, instead of being hosed down by the council's street cleaning jet wash. Sleeping in a room with eight other devastated young men, whose horrific histories have rendered them homeless, isn't an easy option. Men who weep in their sleep, those who fight their nightmare-fuelled demons and the drug and alcohol-saturated individuals who vomit into the mattress. The room has a dank, bleak smell. It frames devastated Britain as if it were a workhouse in the Victorian era. 

The Nike trainer that's yawning away from its sole confirms this is twenty-first century Britain. The one all the politicians have forgotten to talk about as part of their election campaigns. In fact, the political debates are even more interesting for what they've left out: the three quarters of child protection departments that are unfit for purpose, according to Ofsted; the children and young people's prisons that are deemed unsafe by their own governors; the academies achieving their outstanding status by making pupils who negatively impact their results disappear off their roll. The bedroom tax and housing benefit cap which have pushed poor people out of neighbourhoods councils wish to gentrify.

Abuse doesn't succumb to airbrushing. Tommy's violators are now internalised. He uses their hatred to despise himself, and when overwhelmed he cuts his own skin so that the blood can do his screaming for him. Understaffed, the night shelter ejects the crowd in the morning, and the despairing young form a motley crew carrying their entire possessions in bin liners across the city.

Spikes on walls ensure that they can't get too close to expensive buildings. Mosquito alarms only heard by the young disorientate them and drive them away from shopping centres. They are installed for fear that these kids might do designer brands an injustice. Even if they gather to protest, seeking visibility, they are likely to get tasered with electric guns or battered with batons. In pleading for help, they keep a conveyor belt of do-gooders busy as they are referred from one agency to another like a bad game of 'pass the parcel'. With each turn, another layer of dignity lost.

Within a year, Child Line had some 34,000 young people calling because they felt despairing and suicidal. The Children's Society confirmed that half of the homeless 16- and 17-year-olds, who should be housed by law, were turned away from councils when they sought help. The queue at the food bank ensures a leftover sandwich, but even the lettuce is depressed. These young people are hurting.

Whilst the political silence about them is deafening, data screams off the page: the biggest cause of death amongst young men in Britain is not car accidents, it is suicide. The age of 12 is the average for girls entering into prostitution. Drug dealers think nothing of dressing up nine-year-olds in school uniform, with drugs stuffed in their vaginas. They are driven not to school, but to the next perverse deal.

All these children, and Tommy, are child maltreatment and neglect statistics running into millions, the dispossessed citizens of Britain who are invariably impacted by catastrophic layers of adversity, childhood abuse, chronic poverty, homelessness and educational failures. How much more can one person take? The 'walking ghosts' who are neither acknowledged nor helped, whose spirits are driven towards death through sheer exhaustion, and the futility born of hopelessness. As their numbers increase they reflect back at the rest of society a sewage-stenched truth; it's only a matter of time until this pseudo-prosperity will suffocate us all. 

Our political leaders are breaking a fundamental rule: no human being can prosper as an isolated individual, however impressed we may be with personal empowerment. We are all ultimately part of a systemic whole and, if one dimension is left negated, the other will suffer too. So unless we restore hope to these people in the underbelly of our cities, we're not going to have a Britain to be proud of. The essence of equality is every citizen's right to dignity, irrespective of personal wealth.

Tommy and others like him are waiting for all of us to do the right thing, inspired by politicians who lead through profound conviction - rather than tweeting like twits.

Change begins here. Write to your MPs telling them that you will not accept dysfunction in child protection and you want something meaningful done about it. Donate to Kids Company so that we can continue to advocate on behalf of these children and young people, and help them practically. Finally, pass this on to your friends and colleagues, and ask them to do the same.

You've just changed two lives - yours, and the walking ghost's, your fellow citizen. Now that might be worth a tweet.

As part of The Huffington Post UK's Beyond The Ballot series we want to know what issues you think aren't getting enough attention in the election campaign. Tweet using the hashtag #BeyondTheBallot to tell us in 140 characters and we'll feature the best contributions