A volcano of need

It looks quite bleak at the moment, if I’m honest. Because there are so many factors coming together that make it very difficult for people living on low incomes in places like Coventry. The single solution we seem to have at the moment is for people to find jobs.

Perhaps, if the UK as a nation becomes more prosperous, and there are better-paid jobs, that are available to people across the country from different walks of life, then that might be a viable solution. But, for many of the people we work with, actually finding secure employment that pays a reasonable income, is a big step away. And so at the moment, many of our clients are dealing with having very limited income, they are dealing with increased costs of living, and they are less able to rely on public goods and services like social care, housing, or legal advice because those services are being reduced or taken away entirely.

So, given the problems, and the limited resources we have to deal with them, we do need to tap into the strengths that communities have. And by that I do not mean that we need a great volunteering programme, where people are doing jobs, but not getting paid for the work they are doing. It is about building networks of support for people who are isolated. It is about working closely with them to see what strengths they have, and connecting them with people who might share an interest with them.

Where people have multiple and complex needs, when they are isolated or vulnerable, they don’t build up social networks very confidently. These people don’t have the family networks, and don’t have the ability to form networks of friends which are natural and vital support systems for more confident, better educated people. If you can help people with these kinds of problems, overcome the obstacles they face, and create networks to support them, it can be absolutely transformational.

One example is the Young Migrants Rights Project (YMRP) we have run in partnership with Grapevine. Grapevine usually work with people with learning disabilities, and they work to connect those people with others who will support them. They have brought that approach into YMWP. The project is about removing young migrants from situations where they are isolated and can be quite open to exploitation, and connecting them to people who will build their confidence and be a friend. So now these young people, who have been through similar experiences are supporting each other through their problems.

I think you need to nurture these kind of networks. And there are a much wider range of people who would benefit from them. Everyone has transitions in their lives; from a child to an adult, or if you are bereaved, or divorced. These are all big changes. And people survive those changes better if they have someone to hold their hand through them. But some people, who are on the edges of society find it harder to make the connections to get through those hard times. For them, it is about how you smooth their path and help them build the skills that a more confident, well-connected person is able to do by themselves. You can then leave them with a sustainable support mechanism, which is completely different from buying a service. Now you might need to buy a service as well. If someone is severely disabled, or they are suffering mental ill health, you will need professional input as well. But you won’t need as much of it if they aren’t so isolated.

And in terms of the funding that we do have left, we have to ensure that the funding cuts mean that public funding isn’t only directed at statutory requirements (i.e. those things which public authorities are legally obliged to do). Because if that happens, it will mean that most public money is funding crisis intervention as opposed to looking at earlier intervention that might prevent an escalation to crisis.

For example, take adult social care services. The situation there is potentially quite frightening really. There are severe funding cuts, and decreased funding is happening at the same time that need is growing, because more people are living longer. But at the same time, many of those people are not living completely healthy lives. So resources are inevitably focused on those people facing the most severe problems. And the smaller bits of support that people need earlier on to help them maintain their independence, those are inevitably under threat as funding is cut.

It’s in the early stages where you can do small things to help to support people to help them live independently, and where the withdrawal of funding could cause huge problems later on. Because without funding to help people cope with the little things, then they go downhill faster, and the cost of care for us as a country will end up being far bigger in the end as a result. At the same time peoples’ quality of life will massively deteriorate.

What is happening in adult social care is happening in other areas too. For instance, now you only get legal assistance if you are threatened with eviction from your home. And so in many cases debts are allowed to build up and up, with no one to sort out the situation at an earlier stage. There is a real danger that the cuts are stopping early-prevention work in many different areas and they are building up a volcano of need, which will explode, if that need isn’t being met sufficiently early. And there is then a very high cost to dealing with these issues once the volcano has exploded. Early prevention work is vital to ensuring that doesn’t happen.

Photo by Russ Seidel

Prosperity corner

Read more of Lacuna’s series of Perspectives on Prosperity

Sue Bent

Sue Bent is the Director of Coventry Law Centre. She works with some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged communities in Coventry.

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