Few things in today’s political environment prompt our politicians to put their differences to one side. But when terror strikes, they do. With one voice they condemn the attacks, call on the country to pull together and promise to look after the survivors and the families of those bereaved. These words matter. They matter to the country, they matter to communities at risk of misguided ‘retaliation’ and they matter to the bereaved and injured. But actions matter too.
Survivors Against Terror was formed earlier this year to give a voice to the survivors of terror attacks and to ensure that fine words are turned into action. One of our first tasks was to reach out to other survivors to better understand their story, to see whether the experiences we knew first hand were shared by others and how that had changed over time.
The first nationwide survey of terror attack survivors has just been completed and some of the findings are stark. Over summer we surveyed 271 survivors and without a doubt the biggest gap they identified was in mental health services. 76% of survivors identified them as requiring improvement and three quarters of those felt the improvement needed was dramatic (either a four or five on a one-to-five scale). Beneath these figures are awful stories or people being dumped onto long waiting lists, survivors forced to pay for their own treatment and children denied help ending up harming themselves.
The crisis in mental health services is dragging down what would otherwise be a much more positive picture. Most services were rated by 80% of respondents as good, very good or exceptional. NHS hospital care came top of the satisfaction stakes with 80% finding their support very good or exceptional.
As well as these positive ratings, people’s experience of the help they received is also improving. Comparing the experiences of those affected in the 1980s to the most recent attacks reveals significantly improved satisfaction levels.
But while there is much that is encouraging in the data, the overall picture is marred by the major gaps in service provision. Along with mental health there were high levels of concern over financial support and compensation, the lack of legal support, inadequate child services and the foreign office’s lack of competence in responding to overseas attacks.
Today’s survey we hope will help politicians and service providers understand what is working well and where the gaps are. On mental health services we hope the report will create an urgent impetus for better services, it’s simply unsustainable and unfair to continue as we are.
When terror strikes our country, the British public do an amazing job of pulling together and providing an outpouring of love and support to the survivors. They rightly expect the government to do their part and to honour the promise that survivors will be cared for.
Charlotte Dixon-Sutcliffe is chair of Survivors Against Terror, and lost her partner David in the 2016 Brussels metro bombing