03/02/2017 04:28 GMT | Updated 03/02/2018 05:12 GMT

When Dreams Are Supplanted By Nightmares, Health Flies Out The Window

I read a thoughtful and persuasive article the other day, headlined "Nobody dreams of being homeless". It was about aspiration versus reality; the things that people grow up hoping for, as against the bleak actuality that all too many are faced with as the gap widens between the haves and the have-nots. We may as children, this well-written piece muses, have dreamed of being astronauts, or fire-fighters, or movie stars. But we didn't aspire to an existence without a roof over our heads, and quite right too - but, sadly, childhood dreams shatter when reality bites.

The thing is, in a literal sense, the headline is wrong. Whatever our dreams may have been made up of in our childhood slumbers, it's the nightmares making people afraid to sleep here and now that truly matter. These bad dreams reflect real and present dangers for the millions threatened by the impact of ongoing austerity and its squeezing effect on the poorest in society. It's a very real problem that's having a measurable effect on the nation's health; many thousands of people as yet materially unaffected are literally living in fear of what our own government may be about to do to them. In that context, it can be seen that for many people, negative dreams of being homeless are a very real factor in their everyday lives. Dreams are the sleeping mind's way of working out the problems that preoccupy us during waking hours. If the problems are acute - if there's a threat to a person's security and safety, even to the basics of food and shelter, and if these threats are significant, then the dreams will be invasive and upsetting as the subconscious struggles with such inimical possibilities.

There's very little hope or comfort out there, either. Most of the national press continues to demonise the poor, disabled and vulnerable - and those politicians who wish to speak out for that unfortunate sector of society are scorned and despised. There's plenty of anecdotal evidence for this sad state of affairs if you care to look for it - it's depressingly easy to find people so bowed down by the stress and worry of what the "powers that be" might do to them, that it's negatively affecting their already poor health. I have a friend who is confined to a wheelchair, with myriad disabling health and self-care problems. He has been losing sleep and fretting his remaining strength away, worrying about a forthcoming disability benefits assessment, when it's plainly obvious that he qualifies for all the help available. But the money seemingly wasted in such an overly inclusive process can apparently be justified by the savings made in denying help to many who are not quite so severely affected - but who still realistically need and rely upon state support. In terms of reducing the budget, it's a sprat to catch a mackerel - but in the quest for savings on a macro level, it's individuals who stress and worry, before suffering financial loss that many of them are simply helpless to combat.

Ultimately, it's false economy. Those denied benefits that actually need them don't, for the most part, just go away (although the death toll caused by austerity is now a real public issue). The hapless victims of benefits cuts must simply take their problems elsewhere, and thus they ultimately become yet more of a strain on the health and social care budget. Because you can't just legislate or wish those issues under the carpet; somebody has to pick up the pieces when thoughtless short-termism shatters dreams of safety and security - and that, too, costs money.

For many people in this country, their future is bleak or, at best, uncertain. Even for those not yet affected by health and benefit cuts, the shadow of the gathering storm is there on the horizon and it's rolling in to engulf them. In those circumstances, is it any wonder that they worry and become yet more ill with anxiety and stress? Is it any wonder that, in the worst way, they do dream of being homeless - or merely of a buff envelope coming through the door? There's more than one sort of dream after all and, for many, restful sleep is mostly kept at bay by nightmares.