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Community Links blog

We can’t address ‘the burning injustice of mental illness’ without proper social investment

January 10th, 2017

Yesterday Theresa May made some welcome announcements about the government’s future direction on preventing mental illness and promoting positive mental health.

She rightly identified that not only is mental health a social justice issue, but that the best way to improve it is by making it “an everyday concern for all of us, and in every one of our institutions”. Taking an early action approach is therefore imperative to preventing mental illness, and in doing so “transforming the way we deal with mental health problems at every stage of a person’s life”. In doing so she recognises, rhetorically at least, that the current crisis in mental health is as much a social crisis as a medical or funding crisis.

Thriving Minds: Acting early on mental health

Just before Christmas the Early Action Task Force published its latest report looking at how we can act earlier on mental health. Central to the argument of Thriving Minds is that as mental health underpins so many aspects of our lives, we need a far ranging response that goes beyond simply reforming mental health services.

A useful way of thinking about this was best put by report co-author Rosie Hayes, when she asked is mental illness the ‘Great Stink’ of our time? She highlighted that since the 19th century the government has recognised the benefit of investing in physical infrastructure such as the sewer system to improve public physical health, arguing that today we face a comparable situation in mental health. Therefore, similarly to the areas identified by the Prime Minister, we argue in Thriving Minds that schools, the workplace, communities, money, and the criminal justice system are important areas for early action beyond – and in collaboration with – mental health services.

We would also add private renting to the Prime Minister’s list, as renters are 75% more likely to experience serious anxiety and depression than homeowners. This is largely down to insecurity in the private rented sector, itself a consequence of unaffordability, short-term tenures, and poor living conditions. If we don’t tackle these issues – and the issues identified in the other 5 areas mentioned above – then it is unlikely we will be able to prevent mental illness, let alone promote positive mental health. Legislative approaches like those found in Scotland with the Private Housing (Tenancies) (Scotland) Act 2016 and more local initiatives like co-regulation of private landlords are promising starts, but more must be done.

Was it all just rhetoric?

As other commentators have pointed out, we should be sceptical of these pledges – however welcome they are on the surface – when previous governments have at best consistently failed on mental health provision and, at worst, actively damaged it with cuts. David Robinson wrote on our blog yesterday that announcements like this – and Blair’s “Giving Age” – are sometimes pure rhetoric entirely lacking in policy substance. The mere fact that mental health was given such prominence in the Prime Minister’s first proper speech on social policy makes us optimistic, but equally we are wary about aspirational announcements with no new money to back them up. Only time will tell how serious this government really is about addressing our current mental health crisis and, ultimately, long-term investment in key social infrastructure such as schools, the workplace, and communities is the most likely thing to yield a triple dividend: enabling people to lead thriving lives, costing less, and contributing more.

The meaning of the shared society

January 9th, 2017

Tony Blair delivered his first Conference speech as PM on October 1st 1997. He mentioned, amongst much else, the advent of the “giving age”.

Early on the morning of the 2nd I received an urgent request from the policy team at No 10 – would I attend a meeting about the “giving age” at 6.30 that night? Excellent, I thought, an early opportunity to understand what the new epoch means for us, the sector and our plans for the New Jerusalem.

I think there were 6 of us at the meeting. It might have been 5. We were asked, by way of introduction to say what we thought the “giving age” might mean. I assumed the challenge was a kind of icebreaker. It turned out to be the purpose of the meeting. Apparently the phrase had been inserted in the speech hours before it was delivered and after the PM had asked for more rhetorical flourishes. Everybody at No 10 was surprised when the press picked up on it. Now the Policy team were being asked to invent the meaning. Quickly.

Unsurprisingly the “giving age” is not generally remembered as Blair’s finest hour . Indeed it is not generally remembered. Full stop.

David Cameron’s “Big Society” was an altogether more considered proposition crafted in opposition and floated in the media long before the election. It also hasn’t been forgotten largely because the PM invested so much personal effort and political capital in sustaining the rhetoric throughout his first term. Despite his perseverance, however, the practical legacy is minimal. Community Organisers and Big Society Capital (BSC) are usually cited as the principal achievements but as the Social Wholesale Bank began life under Gordon Brown before being rebranded as the BSC even this sparse litany is an exaggeration.

Big Society always suffered from being the politically acceptable half of an idea that actually had two parts. In practise it was as much about a smaller state as it was about a bigger society. As I tried to point out in my open letters to David Cameron (which you can read here and here) the simultaneous erosion of so much of the public realm was desperately at odds with the promotion of ideas about community empowerment and social support.

That’s why I am, on first acquaintance, a little more optimistic, although instinctively cautious, about Theresa May’s “shared society” unveiled on Monday. The phraseology at least seems to acknowledge the importance of the state alongside the citizen and civil society. If the linguistic shift is intentional I think it is an important one but I know it is a big if.

As I write on the evening after the PM’s speech, I am fervently hoping that there isn’t a little huddle of worthy souls summoned urgently to stare intently at a blank flip chart in the bowels of Downing Street and to try to fathom out what the devil might be meant by the shared society.

Patrick Jenkin: remembered by David Robinson

December 22nd, 2016

Almost 40 years ago I went to see Lord Jenkin at his constituency surgery. I was endeavouring, unsuccessfully, to get a government grant to help set up what ultimately became Community Links. I realised that a dreamy adolescent with a bit of an idea would never get a meeting with a senior politician in the approved manner so I pretended to be a constituent and just rocked up at the surgery. Patrick Jenkin, as he then was, not only saw me and talked to me at some length but we eventually did get our grant.

Patrick must have realised very early on in our relationship that I didn’t live in Woodford but perhaps he also saw some higher purpose in the shallow deceit. He was consistently kind to me and quietly supportive throughout his life even after it would also have become clear that my personal politics were different from his own.

The death of Lord Patrick Jenkin today reminds me of the true and important line from the maiden speech of Jo Cox, a political rival who we also lost in this fraught and often fractious year “We are far more united, and have far more in common with each other, than the things that divide us”.

Let there be hope

December 19th, 2016

“So this is Christmas, what have we done?”

We entered 2016 with business leaders predicting economic recovery but with austerity still pounding through the public realm, with local authorities particularly in our most hard pressed areas confronting impossible choices and anticipating imminent crises for social care and other essential services, with further deep cuts in the voluntary sector, closures and redundancies almost inevitable and with more evident and abject poverty than at any time in my working life.

Then it got worse. 7 million people in the UK are now officially poor despite being part of a working family. Even the Governor of the Bank of England talks about the “growing sense of isolation and detachment” and “the first lost decade since the 1860s”. He may be overstating the good news. According to the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies, we are living through the worst period for real earnings growth since the Napoleonic Wars. Here in the Olympic borough of Newham, 34% of the borough’s residents now earn less than the living wage – an increase of 10% since 2010 despite exceptional investment and development. Remember when we thought that Food Banks were for another country and another time?

The numbers are grim but the shift in attitudes is worse. Late last night I bought paracetamol at the little shop down the road. “39 years in the UK and I’ve never had a cold” said the owner. I hoped she wouldn’t catch mine. “No chance” she said “even the germs in London don’t like us now.”

Thirty nine years, the living embodiment of contributing citizens and a hard working family and “even the germs don’t like us now”. The creeping acceptance that it is okay to discriminate and openly despise may not yet be a crisis but the “bend to justice” in Martin Luther King’s arc of the moral universe has swerved wildly and worryingly in the UK and across the world.

“Another year over, a new one just begun”

I understand why friends tell me that they turn off the TV news. Lately I’ve started to do that too and it scares me more than anything. We have work to do and, difficult though it may seem to be, we must embrace the New Year as another chance, a chance to rediscover hope. Here’s how:

1) You have your special power, use it:

Building a more connected, humane and supportive society isn’t just about money or organisations or governments or global movements. In fact it mainly isn’t. People change lives, one to one, and we can all do that today, person to person, from where we are with what we’ve got. Social isolation and the consequential fear, distrust and misery is a modern epidemic but one that we can personally attack. It is our special power. Do the human things that only you can do.

2) Organise in new ways:

Charities are important but not necessarily the same organisational structures in the same configurations as we have today. Community Links, the organisation with which I have been associated all my working life, has, like many in our sector, shrunk significantly in recent years. As I noted last summer on this blog “we would like to think that when we stop doing things it is either because the job has been completed or because someone else has found a better way of doing it. I realise with a heavy heart that neither apply in this situation”.

After nigh on forty years I feel this personally and painfully but times change and an unforgiving future holds no special refuge for unchanging institutions Far better to rethink, regroup, organise ourselves in new ways and renew the charge than surrender to sentiment.

Rigid tribal structures in our politics must be similarly interrogated. The most widely read progressive blog, Labour List, surveyed the wreckage of Labour’s share of the vote in the Richmond by election and concluded “it was a tough night for Labour but we have no choice other than to fight on for the causes in which we believe”. Really, not a moment of doubt and self-reflection? On a night when Labour hung on to less than 4% of the vote and when the decision of the Green Party, to withdraw its own candidate, was arguably critical to the narrow defeat of a sitting MP who had deliberately driven division with a singularly poisonous mayoral campaign, just six months earlier? This isn’t just about Labour. Across the party spectrum it is time for all of us who care about social progress to organise ourselves in new ways, work together better and worry most about getting the job done, least about who gets the credit.

3) Double down on speaking up:

The global banking crisis wasn’t the wake-up call I thought it might have been. Maybe Brexit will be. The vote wasn’t just a hammering for the political class or even for the business establishment but also for everybody else who never saw it coming. If the impending disentanglement is not informed by a better understanding of the needs of the most disadvantaged it won’t end well for any of us. It is time to speak louder and help other voices to be heard.

With important exceptions, civil society has been losing its voice in recent years. Time was when councils would be ceaselessly implored to not set a rate that couldn’t sustain essential services, when a Wednesday night TV play about one homeless family could spark national and transformational outrage and when charities were expected to disturb as well as to comfort. Now Food Banks are the response to hunger at home, not a Poor People’s March on Parliament, and as some of our most disadvantaged communities begin to feel the loss of European funding or the withdrawal of rights enshrined in EU law I wonder if there won’t be at least some charities in 2017 regretting their fearful silence in the referendum.

Never was there a greater need to educate and influence, to persuade and cajole, to make the case for fairness and justice and, yes, to take on the consequences. Speaking out whenever we have the opportunity in 2017 is not an alternative to practical pragmatic action, both are necessary, but, to again quote Dr King, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”.

4) Tell the story:

Austerity, Brexit and the American election were triumphs for the most effective story tellers if not the best stories. “Stories” wrote Ben Okri “are our secret reservoir of values. Change the stories individuals and nations live by and tell themselves and we change the individuals and the nations”.

Two kinds of tales nourish optimism – some of the here and now, some of the future. We need to reclaim the dominant line on both, to talk more in the New Year about what we can become with decent wages, decent homes, humane services, kindness for strangers, support for one another, the embrace of opportunities and we need to root this big forward looking story in the hundreds of thousands of little ones about all that we do well now but seldom celebrate.

5) Reclaim Hope in 2017:

I think we are a better society than we have often appeared to be in 2016 and I think a lot of other people think that too. It’s time to do the human things that only we can do. Change the ways we organise and work together. Speak out. Tell the stories. Most of all, because despair ne’er buttered any parsnips, own the promise of the future in 2017, reclaim hope and never let it go.

Tackling racism at its root

November 25th, 2016

The murder of Jo Cox, which led to her killer being given a life sentence on Wednesday, was a shocking reminder of where racist thinking can lead. Yet, despite a concerning rise in far-right activity and hate crime against ethnic minorities, there appears to be little focus on preventing racism from taking root.

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However, one small organisation in Swansea is acting earlier to tackle hate crime and promote better opportunities for young people. Through working with disadvantaged ethnic minority young people, the Ethnic Support Youth Team (EYST) noticed that the young people they worked with were experiencing increasing levels of racism and hate crime. They realised that nearly all the emphasis in this area was on encouraging victims to report hate crime, but little was being done to prevent it from happening. Furthermore, a rise in far-right activity in Swansea highlighted that it was a particular type of young white person being recruited into these organisations: extremely disadvantaged, often excluded from mainstream education, and sometimes within the youth offending system.

In response to this, EYST developed the Think Project, a targeted intervention for 16-25 year olds which mirrored the work they were doing in preventing radicalisation in young Muslims. The project stands out as one of the few programmes in the UK that solely focuses on targeting young white people who are most vulnerable to far-right extremism. Delivered through pupil referral units, youth offending teams, and schools, it is a three day educational programme that combines education about Islam, migrants, and asylum seekers with positive, first-hand experience of diversity. It is delivered by ethnically diverse youth workers and connects the young people with those they have previously feared or misunderstood, hearing their stories and challenging myths.

The importance of learning the facts and gaining these experiences couldn’t be starker. Of the nearly 500 young people that Think Project has worked with in the last four years, over half thought that immigrants make up 50% of the population of Wales before completing the programme, and a quarter believed it was around 75%. The reality is closer to 6%. This distorted perception of reality plays into the hands of far-right groups who claim the country is overrun with immigrants taking our jobs, homes, and benefits. Yet Think Project demonstrates that given the opportunity to learn the facts and gain positive first-hand experience of diversity, these opinions can be challenged. The project’s external evaluation showed that whilst most young people on the programme initially held strong and largely negative views about immigration, asylum and diversity, these views change significantly for the 95% of participants by the end of the programme.

The power of Think project is most clearly demonstrated through the stories of those involved:

‘Kayleigh’ took part in one of the group sessions delivered in Merthyr Tydfil, and by her own admission at the start of the programme, ‘just didn’t like people with different skin colours, didn’t like it when they talked their language, just couldn’t stand them’. After the 3 day programme she said ‘I feel completely different now, we’re all human, we’re all here for different reasons’. After the programme, the Think project workers supported her to take up volunteering opportunities with an international volunteering exchange charity. She thoroughly enjoyed a one week residential volunteering opportunity in Cardiff, meeting people she would never have met in her home town. She is now considering undertaking volunteering abroad with the same charity, something she says she would never have done without the Think Project. She volunteered to speak about the impact of the project at the end of project conference, and has applied to become a community organiser with Hope not Hate.

 

Key to the success of Think Project has been recognising that whilst these young people are potential perpetrators of hate crime, they are also victims of the failures of our education system and society more generally. By providing a safe space where they can air their real and perceived grievances and by treating them with respect, the Think Project enables their views to be debated and challenged without pushing them deeper into prejudice. During the programme, emphasis is placed on improving the participants’ confidence, understanding, and communication skills and once it is completed participants are encouraged to pursue volunteering opportunities. In doing so, Think project is further increasing their resilience to far-right groups as well as increasing their opportunities to thrive.

Think Project sets an example on how to act early to effectively tackle racism and create better outcomes for some of our most vulnerable young people. But it is only a small organisation, and its perception as an ‘add-on’ service means that the issue of funding is a constant challenge. Whilst there are also much wider challenges around poverty and inequality which must also be addressed, it is crucial that schools and educational institutions begin to act earlier on racism, and equip our young people with the tools they need to become positive and active contributors to society. In the words of Jo’s sister, Kim Cox, “Whilst we can’t change what’s happened, we can try and choose how we respond… with love, strength and positivity”.

 

You can read more about Think Project on their project website here.

You can see more examples of early action in our case study gallery.

 

Six ways society can act earlier for mental health

November 25th, 2016

On the 9th December, the Early Action Task Force will be publishing its newest report: ‘Thriving Minds: Acting Early on Mental Health‘. Within the report we’ve focused on six areas, although we could have doubled this list as mental health runs through everything in a circle of cause and effect. Below is a snapshot of our thinking on how society can act early on mental health.

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1. Education

Half of all diagnosable mental health conditions in adults begin before the age of 14

Given the above statistic, our school years present a significant opportunity to promote positive mental health early. School can take measures to promote positive mental health, such as the whole-school approach of the Mancroft Advice Project. Local and central governments also need to ensure that their policies are focused on promoting positive mental health in children through collaboration with local services and reducing the pressure of exams.

2. Work

Mental health problems account for 47% of long term absences from work

If people felt they wouldn’t be stigmatised for having a mental health problem, they’d be much more likely to disclose this and take time off earlier to prevent their mental health from reaching crisis point. Training in Mental Health First Aid can aid understanding and reduce stigma, whilst organisational approaches such as ‘happier@work’ can make workplaces a more mentally positive place to be. Of course, some people may still fall ill and need time off work, so it’s also important that employment support services are tailored to those with mental health needs to enable them to get back into sustainable, good quality work.

3. Money

Problem debt makes a person twice as likely to develop a mental health problem

At present, a significant number of people are caught up in a vicious cycle of mental health problems and problem debt. By reducing the amount of problem debt people take on, improving early access to advice, and changing debt collection practices, we can act earlier to ensure the cycle is broken. CAB’s ‘Healthy Advice’ scheme is a good example of how services are innovating to ensure they are reaching the people who need advice as early as possible.

4. Criminal Justice

90% of prisoners have a mental health problem

The criminal justice system is host to many people at the sharp end of the collective failure to act earlier for mental health. Yet the system can play a role in creating an alternative for these people. We’ve come across excellent examples of Street Triage and Liaison & Diversion schemes which divert people away from the criminal justice system and into the care they need. Acting earlier also means making prisons mentally healthy environments, so they aren’t creating or exacerbating mental health problems for offenders who will eventually leave prison. Finally, the majority of offenders do not go to prison, so it is important that probation services are equipped to provide support in the community, as well as ensuring offenders are ready to re-enter society.

5. Housing

Renters are 75% more likely to experience serious anxiety and depression than homeowners

Insecurity in the private rented sector, as a result of a lack of affordability, short-term tenures, and poor conditions, is a significant damaging factor to private renters’ mental health. Accordingly, it is important that these issues are tackled in order to reduce the likelihood of mental illness and promote positive mental health – the Private Housing (Tenancies) (Scotland) Act 2016 is a promising start but more needs to be done.

6. Communities

Chronic loneliness is a comparable risk factor for early death as smoking 15 cigarettes a day

Local services can play an important role in preventing loneliness and fostering social connection, ranging from highly formal services explicitly aimed at connecting people, to the more incidental connections that are created through the varied community spaces and events that we might engage with on a day to day basis for other purposes entirely. Building these connections can positively influence the way that we think about ourselves and our communities, in turn promoting better mental health, as demonstrated by Haringey Thinking Space.

 

It is evident that if we are to act earlier to promote positive mental health, we need to be acting before people need to engage with mental health services. In order to achieve this, it is essential that we recognise the current crisis in mental health as a social crisis, as opposed to simply a healthcare crisis. In acknowledging that mental health is everyone’s responsibility, sectors should act together to share the cost of early action, as well as the resultant benefits – the triple dividend of enabling people to lead thriving lives, whilst costing less to public services and contributing more to our economy.

If you’re interested in the ideas we’ve raised here and would like to know more, please sign up to our mailing list to ensure you receive a link to the report when it is published. You can also attend our discussion on early action for mental health, hosted by the Big Lottery Fund, on Friday 9th December from 9.30am-12pm. For further information and to register for a free ticket, please visit our Eventbrite page.

The Autumn Statement: A Question of Growth?

November 23rd, 2016

Although this year’s Autumn Statement failed to live up to its billing to help households who are ‘just about managing’, it did make a renewed attempt to tackle one of the biggest and most damaging challenges we currently face: the UK’s productivity puzzle. Whilst increasing investment is welcome, it is a missed opportunity as it is largely investment in physical infrastructure – trains, cars and telecoms – as opposed to social infrastructure. If we truly want to solve the productivity puzzle, we need to invest in people as well as things.

Today the Early Action Taskforce are publishing a collection of short essays on how acting earlier can promote good growth. This collection is based on our “A Question of Growth” blog series we ran earlier this year, asking members of the Task Force and others to contribute their thoughts on what constituted ‘good growth’ and how taking a more preventative and investment-led approach can provide a solid foundation for growth.

It is clear from the contributions in our report that one of the first problems we must overcome in our quest for good growth is measurement. Many contributors pointed out that GDP is partial and does not capture fundamental elements that contribute to improving people’s wellbeing, arguably an important measure of human progress. As Dan Corry from New Philanthropy Capital argues, we must not throw GDP out entirely, as it risks alienating policy makers and losing a useful if partial indicator of economic progress, but growth that does not contribute to our overall well-being is unlikely to be ‘good growth’. Anna Coote from the New Economics Foundation makes this point most strongly, defining wellbeing as “the way people feel when they lead a good life, functioning well on personal and social levels”.

We should therefore be aiming for, in the words of the London School of Economics’ Anne Power, “a less greedy, more socially just, more equitable and more environmentally sensitive approach to growth”. Focussing on investment in physical infrastructure alone will not achieve this.

Investing in society can improve productivity

Early action provides the opportunity to not only broaden the debate, but to widen the horizons of what we want to achieve and how we want to achieve it.

Two contributors focussed on how we relate the early action agenda to market forces in order to foster ‘good growth’. Debbie Pippard from the Barrow Cadbury Trust argues that the poverty premium, in which poorer people end up paying more for essential goods and services, is hugely problematic for both moral and economic reasons. If we could reduce or abolish it through collective consumption practices then we could free up more money for spending in the wider economy.

Dan Paskins from the Big Lottery Fund calls for early action strategies that ensure “the aggregate benefits of globalisation are shared more equitably”. By investing in early action – an integral part of the social infrastructure of the UK – we can intervene more efficiently in market failures and societal problems, leaving us with more money to invest in classic growth strategies around physical infrastructure, and improving social outcomes too.

The point about investment is crucial. As Caroline Slocock of Civil Exchange notes, early action is not a cost but an economic investment. We therefore need a positive cycle of investment in early action that clearly yields a return on investment (arguments around investing in science and education to increase our human capital already recognises this), and there are already tools out there that can help us to measure this (for example in New Zealand). Other early action areas that are traditionally seen as costs rather than investments include welfare – something the Task Force has written on before – as highlighted by Neil McInroy, employment support, and mental health.

Ben Jupp from Social Finance takes (un)employment as his focus, arguing that the massive inequalities individuals with mental health problems face in the labour market constitute a major drag on our economy Governmental attempts to address this have been patchy to date – the Work Programme for example has been particularly unsuccessful at helping those with health problems – but there is hope if we can invest more money in early action activities such as Individual Placement Support that integrates health and employment support, starts with people’s wishes and aspirations, and aims to get people into work they actually want to do as fast as is appropriate. In doing so we can harness people’s potential and enable them to flourish.

Also thinking about mental health, Cliff Prior of New Philanthropy Capital discusses Social Impact Bonds (SIBs) as a newish form of investment that can yield social and economic benefits. For him and indeed many of our authors the argument that it is too costly to invest in early action is glib, particularly when you consider the huge economic and social costs of mental health problems. He points to several SIBs such as Newcastle’s Ways to Wellness and the Fair Chance Fund that are aligning funding from different sources for positive social and economic outcomes for individuals, communities, and for society as a whole.

To steal Cliff Prior’s conclusion: “good growth – sometimes you know it when you see it.”

Investing in the next generation

November 22nd, 2016

Chancellor Phillip Hammond will make his Autumn statement on Wednesday. Alongside the spring budget this is the most important statement about the governments intentions for the economy. A lot has happened since last March. The Brexit vote, a new government, a churning global economy all make this year’s statement even more significant than normal. Here Early Action Task Force colleague Caroline Slocock makes the case for investment in the next generation.

 

I hope the Chancellor will announce new investment in people, not just in capital infrastructure, tomorrow. We’ve already heard that the Government is willing to spend £1.3 billion on reducing congestion on roads, £2 billion a year on research and development for industry and £400 million for new Digital Infrastructure Investment Fund. The Autumn Statement is likely to include investment in other forms of capital investment too. But the case for investing in the next generation is equally strong and just as important for making Britain “match fit” for Brexit.

The key is to believe in the talents of all of our young people and communities – particularly those at most risk of being left behind – to aim high and invest long term. A good model was the bold decision by successive governments to invest in the potential future Olympic champions of the future, which bore fruit not just at the London Olympics but in Rio too. A similar act of faith in children and young people otherwise at risk of underperforming could by hugely more significant to Britain’s future prospects.

This is a productivity, as well as an equality, issue, and an even more pressing one in the light of Brexit. Theresa May has already pledged to tackle Britain’s longstanding educational inequalities, and rightly so. Britain has a long tail of educational underperformance, which primarily affects children from the poorest backgrounds, white working class children of both sexes, as well as Pakistani and Bangladeshi, Caribbean and Gypsy and Traveller groups. Indeed, the UK is the worst performing of OECD countries in this respect and, as an OECD report has modelled, the value of bringing all students to a minimum level of attainment in the UK for GDP could be very substantial over time.

New investment would be a cost now but would help Britain achieve a surplus longer term. Get it right, and everyone in this generation will contribute to the success of the country, financially and socially, paying more taxes, raising productivity, creating healthy, happy and strong communities that lay the foundations for Britain’s social and economic success. Get it wrong and the chances are many will end up relying on welfare payments unnecessarily and face avoidable health and social problems that will contribute to the debt burden for which future generations have to pay.

The Government’s current strategy is to raise standards in schools and put in extra money for children with Free School Meals (FSM) through the pupil premium but this is not enough. Professor Steve Strand from Oxford University found the largest gap in attainment between FSM children and others in outstanding and good secondary schools and concluded that `

What is needed is a more sustained and holistic approach for at risk children and young people that provides support from “cradle to career” and is sustained across institutions, bringing in not just schools but other public and voluntary sector services in a co-ordinated and targeted way. This approach has been shown to work. In the USA, for example, the Federal Government has invested in Promise Neighbourhoods that do just this. A similar approach is now being pursued in the UK by Save the Children, with support from a number of charitable foundations, in Wallsend in North Tyneside, Collyhurst in Manchester and Pembury in Hackney, London. The West London Zone is another example. These experiments are based on a considerable body of evidence and are themselves beginning to provide evidence that the approach bears fruit.

That’s why the Early Action Task Force is calling for the Government to establish a Next Generation Investment Fund that would be available for different communities to access, putting forward ideas that meet the diverse needs of different communities, but which are united in an optimistic view of their children’s potential.

How big should this Fund be? The Early Intervention Foundation has estimated the costs to the Exchequer of late intervention to correct problems for children and young people is nearly £17 billion a year in England and Wales. If just 1 per cent of that were earmarked now for the Fund, that would be a good start.

Now is the time to invest ambitiously in making the most of all talents in Britain.

This blog is written by Caroline Slocock, Director of Civil Exchange and a member of the Early Action Task Force.

 

Surviving today, jam tomorrow

November 21st, 2016

Speaking today at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) conference, Jeremy Corbyn will argue for long-term public intervention for “the common good”He will highlight how the Prime Minister’s mantra of people “just about managing”, now known as ‘Jams’ in Whitehall, doesn’t ring true for many who instead find themselves “just about surviving”. A combination of policy changes and market failures mean this group are forced to continuously cope with immediate challenges rather than being enabled to find sustainable ways out of poverty.

Back in 2014, we published our third report analysing the cumulative impact of welfare reform in East London. It was called “Just About Surviving”, and explored the ways in which individuals and families were struggling to cope with changes to the social security system.

We found that the reforms were putting people into highly stressful situations, often left feeling powerless and trapped in poverty. People were cycling in in and out of poorly paid and precarious employment, constantly juggling diminishing incomes, and making choices that no-one should be forced to make; going without meals so that their children could eat, washing clothes by hand as they couldn’t afford to replace a broken washing machine, and walking long distances to work in the early hours of the morning.

These coping strategies meant that most of them were just about getting by. But only just. People were living on the edge, drawing on finite sources of support where it was available, and increasingly reliant on friends and family as official support was – and is – cut closer to the bone.

The worsening situation

As Corbyn will note, low wages, precarious employment, and high housing costs are pushing these strategies beyond breaking point. Our research shows that this isn’t a new story, and has been a feature of life in the UK for several years now. Structural issues with the labour and housing markets combine with regressive and counter-productive social security reforms to ensure that people are trapped in a cycle of survival; making short term choices that just about keep them afloat for another week or two, but often reduce their possibility of escaping in the future. This short-termism is mirrored in policy making. Measures such as Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP), for example, provide a vital lifeline for many, but rarely come with the support to make sustainable improvements to their lives like finding secure and adequately paid employment or more affordable housing.

As research by Policy in Practice shows, families are set to be £2,500 a year worse off by 2020 due to welfare reform. Whilst this is an important figure and illustrates the scale of the problem, it only tells us part of the story. It doesn’t get at crucial information such as what kinds of coping strategies people may or may not have exhausted. It won’t tell us how the cuts affect individual adults, children, or communities. Nor does it tell us the broader effect on local organisations who are already struggling to meet demand in an increasingly difficult funding environment. We will therefore continue to shed light on these issues through our qualitative research on the cumulative impact of welfare reform, focussing in particular on how Universal Credit affects both those in and out of work.

We are also going to start looking at some of the underlying issues that cause and exacerbate problems for those who are just about surviving. Over the next year we will be conducting in-depth research into the private rented sector, aiming to understand how poor quality housing, overcrowding, and unaffordability can affect people’s health, education, employment and communities. We hope that by doing so we will be able to show that a lack of action by government on these issues is self-defeating and short sighted, as not only will it damage lives, but will increase costs as the demand for services continues to soar.

Moving beyond survival

The problem with the depiction of people as “just about managing” is that it evokes an image of relatively secure individuals and families who face the occasional high fuel bill. It insinuates that they can easily work their way out of their predicament if they just put their minds to it. In turn this leads to policy responses that are partial, short-term, and ultimately unable to enable people to find a sustainable route out of poverty. These responses are also unlikely to solve our low productivity problem, also highlighted in Corbyn’s speech.

The reality for those who are “just about surviving” is far worse than the Prime Minister seems willing to admit. Until we act earlier on the root causes of the problems that this group faces, any progress made via tweaks to the system is likely to stutter and stall before too long. If we want people to thrive, then a long-term investment in society is what we desperately need; more affordable housing, greater job security, better relationships, and a social security system that promotes opportunity rather than acts as a last resort.

Help local families by donating to our Christmas Toy Appeal

November 11th, 2016

Every year, Community Links and the Newham Recorder work together to collect toys to give to underprivileged children at Christmas. For the 39th year, our friend and former editor of the Newham Recorder, Colin Grainger is with us once again supporting the appeal which he helped to launch and has been a part of ever since. In this blog, Colin Grainger writes about the importance of our Christmas Toy Appeal and how you can support it. 

                                                                                                                                                                 Photo Credit: Archant/ Ken Mears

This week sees the launch of a special community appeal that has has shown the true soul of life in Newham for the last 40 years. And the success of the Community Links and Newham Recorder Christmas Toy Appeal shows how much we look after each other in this special part of London.

I hope you can help support the incredible kind of outreach work that has helped  change the lives of young people who are at risk through no fault of their own.

I first helped launch the Community Links and Newham Recorder Christmas Toy Appeal as a reporter on the paper and did so throughout all my roles there, especially in the last 15 I spent there as Editor. But the special pull of the campaign means it never leaves your heart, even if you leave the workplace you spent most of your working life at.

We have helped thousands of children over those years and the appeal is just as relevant today. The need has grown with the campaign and we need to collect the equivalent of 18,000 toys. Over the coming weeks, Community Links and the Recorder are coming together again for the campaign to reach out to thousands of vulnerable children, families and adults.

Christmas can be a time of stress and isolation. But this appeal helps Community Links strengthen communities and raise aspirations, making Christmas special and futures brighter. So I ask for you to find it in your heart to add some special youngsters to your Christmas shopping list this year. When you buy gifts for loved ones and friends, please add another gift – for a child in Newham. All toys need to be new and unwrapped and can be for any age up to 16. In particular, the appeal is always short of toys for teenagers.

Each year the pressure mounts to reach the target, but we have always made it. Hundreds of celebrities and people in the public eye, including the Royal household, have helped us. Businesses do their bit. Newham Council are always there to help. It is an appeal that involves people from all walks of life.

Please give a toy so that together we can fill those empty sacks and ensure that Christmas Day is special this year for every child in Newham.

I shall be doing my usual 50 lengths sponsored swim so if you want to sponsor me please feel free to do so. I am trying to raise £250. You can donate by going to my Just Giving page here.

What to give

Gifts should not promote war or violence, and should ideally be both fun and educational.

• Story books for all ages,

• All types of craft sets, model kits, jigsaws, stationery and coloured pencils.

• Dolls and accessories.

• Cars and car sets for all ages.

• Boxed board games.

• Rucksacks.

• Lego, Duplo and other construction sets.

• £5/£10 fashion or sports vouchers.

• Compilation CDs.

• DVDs of children’s films.

• Toys from newborn to three years and early years toys from three to five years.

Where to give

DROP-OFF POINTS

• Beckton Library, 1 Kingsford Way, Beckton. Open Mon – Sat 10.30am – 8pm.

• Beckton Community Centre, 14 East Ham Manor Way, Beckton. Open Mon – Fri 9am – 5pm.

• Canning Town Library, Barking Road, Canning Town. Open Mon – Sat 10.30am – 8pm.

• Custom House Library, Prince Regent Lane, Custom House. Open Mon, Tues, Sat 9.30am – 5.30pm, Thurs 1pm – 8pm.

• East Ham Library, 328 Barking Road, East Ham. Open Mon – Fri 9am -8pm, Sat 9.30am – 8pm.

• Field Community Centre, 147 Station Road, Forest Gate. Open Mon – Fri 10am – 4pm.

• Grass Roots, Grassroots Children’s Centre, Memorial Park, Memorial Avenue, Stratford. Open Mon – Fri 10am to 4pm.

• Green Street Library, 337-341 Green Street, Upton Park. Open Mon – Sat 10.30am – 8pm.

• The Gate Library, 2-6 Woodgrange Road, Forest Gate. Open Mon – Sat 10.30am – 8pm.

• The Hub, 123 Star Lane, Canning Town. Open Mon – Fri 10am – 4pm.

• Jack Cornwell Community Centre, Jack Cornwell Street, Manor Park. Open Mon – Fri 9am – 5pm.

• Jeyes Community Centre, 1 James Close, Plaistow. Open Mon – Fri 9am – 5pm.

• Katherine Road Community Centre, 254 Katherine Road, Forest Gate. Open Mon – Fri 9am – 5pm.

• Manor Park Library, 685 – 693 Romford Road, Manor Park. Open Mon – Sat 10.30am – 8pm.

• Plaistow Library, North Street, Plaistow. Open Mon, Tues, Sat 9.30am – 5.30pm, Weds and Fri 9.30am – 5pm, Thurs 1pm – 8pm.

• Stratford Library, 3 The Grove, Stratford. Open Mon – Sat 9.30am – 8pm, Sun 1pm – 5pm.

• North Woolwich Library, 5 Pier Parade, North Woolwich. Mon, Tues, Sat 9.30am – 5.30pm, Thurs 1pm – 8pm.

• Newham Bookshop, 745 – 747 Barking Road, Plaistow. Open Tues – Sat, 10am to 4pm.

• St Bartholomew’s Church Centre, 292 Barking Road, East Ham. Open Mon – Fri 10am – 5pm.

• Theatre Royal Box Office, Gerry Raffles Square, Stratford. Open Mon – Sat 10am – 5pm, or until the start of that evening’s show.

• Community Links, 105 Barking Road, Canning Town. Open Mon – Fri 9am – 5.30pm.

• Community Links ASTA Hub, 14 Camel Road, Silvertown. Open Mon – Fri, 10am – 3pm.

• Arc in the Park, Hermit Road Park, Bethell Avenue.Open Mon – Fri 9am – 5pm.

• EAT 16, St Lukes Community Centre, 87 Tarling Road, Canning Town. Open Mon – Fri 8am – 3pm.