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Posts Tagged ‘Triple Dividend’

Prisons and the supersize solutions

Friday, March 24th, 2017

“We try to remove whatever it was that caused the crime”

News this week of plans to build four new “supersized” prisons in England and Wales contrasts miserably with progress in the Netherlands where nineteen prisons have closed in recent years, five in the last year alone.

Jan Roelof van der Spoel, deputy governor of Norgerhaven, a high-security prison in the north-east of the Netherlands offers this explanation for the difference.

“In the Dutch service we look at the individual …If somebody has a drug problem we treat their addiction, if they are aggressive we provide anger management, if they have got money problems we give them debt counselling. We try to remove whatever it was that caused the crime. The inmate himself or herself must be willing to change but our method has been very effective. Over the last 10 years, our work has improved more and more.”

Justice Secretary, Liz Truss, justified her expansion plans with this analysis: “We cannot hope to reduce reoffending until we build prisons that are places of reform where hard work and self-improvement flourish”. Is she really saying that the only way to close prisons is to first build more?

It is certainly never too late to “try to remove whatever it was that caused the crime” but the prevention of first time offending is even better than preventing reoffending. It can be done and it should be: Speaking about creating an  “early action culture” in the police service at our Insight event last year  Andy Rhodes of the Lancashire Constabulary told us that “to prevent crime”, not to arrest more, is the first “Peelian principle”, it should be a police officer’s  primary goal.

Andy embarked on a mission to shift the emphasis after reading our Triple Dividend  report in 2011. Now he says early action is part of our language, it’s referenced on the crime plan, it’s in our recruitment, promotion and Learning and Development with a masters in Early Action at UCLAN and tons of frontline toolkits.”

At the start of his quest Andy was the deputy chief constable and there were a lot of sceptics. Now, not everyone gets it but we are getting there” and Andy is the new Chief Constable , promoted just last week to the top job in the Lancashire Constabulary.

And if Andy is right and we can reduce crime, what might become of our prisons? Again the Netherlands are setting us a shining example: Part of Amsterdam’s Bijlmerbajes prison has become a cultural hub called Lola Lik and part of it is now the Wenckebachweg refugee centre. Here activities for up to 1,000 refugees are aimed at “accelerated integration” – the so called “Amsterdam approach”. The Refugee Company is launching a coffee shop on the site, there’ll be a solar-powered cinema, and The Startup Kitchen, will host food start-ups from around the world.

It’s a remarkable transformation and vivid testimony to the idea that supersizing prevention is altogether better for us all than supersizing prisons.

Six ways society can act earlier for mental health

Friday, 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 Fourth Emergency Service? Early Action and Social Security

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

When we think about crime we can’t help but think of criminals and crime-solvers. The public imagination is informed by stories that focus on reactions to the act of crime; whether it’s a series of devilish riddles solved by Sherlock Holmes, a criminal investigation by Columbo, or a police procedural undertaken by the officers of Sun Hill Police station.

We could therefore be forgiven for believing that the primary role of the police service is to solve crimes, rather than to prevent them. However as Sherlock Holmes once pointed out, sometimes “there is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact”. We appear to have forgotten the first and arguably most fundamental Peelian Principle: “the basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.

Similarly when we think of the fire and rescue service we think of fire engines rushing to a smouldering building, and fire-fighters desperately trying to put it out. When we think of our health we worry about unexpected illness; very few of us seek medical advice before a problem has already arisen. In this sense, using a metaphor the Task Force has often used, emergency services are the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff: supporting people when they are already in crisis.

It doesn’t have to be this way, and indeed in some cases it isn’t. Take Lancashire Constabulary, for example, who have just received £3 million in funding for its Early Action Response project. Or Manchester Fire and Rescue, who have been investing in preventative measures such as Community Safety Apprenticeships for a while now. These initiatives have, or will in the case of Lancashire Constabulary, not only save money, but ultimately ensure that problems are prevented from ever arising.

So what about social security?

Ask anyone about the purpose of the welfare state and they’ll most likely use the metaphor of the safety net; a last resort to save those who find themselves in crisis. Despite its origins as a system of mutual insurance, it is now viewed at best as an emergency service – or at worst as an emergency service that creates ‘dependency’ and traps people in poverty.

Undoubtedly helping those who find themselves in crisis is an important job: as a society we should ensure that these people are supported and enabled in such a way as to return to a general standard of wellbeing. Many benefits are already supposed to work in this way; for example, Jobseekers Allowance is there to help those who find themselves unemployed survive whilst they look for work.

However the social security system currently has three major problems. Firstly, it acts too late; for example most people must wait a year before they receive more intensive employment support, there is a nine month gap between first becoming ill at work and receiving any support, and there are many avoidable delays that are caused by incorrect or inefficient assessments.

Secondly the social security system fails to prevent poverty, both for those in and out of work. This is most stark for people who have been sanctioned, and poverty and destitution has clear links to poorer health outcomes (amongst others). Finally, its delivery can exacerbate already existing problems – whether through harsh eligibility tests for disability benefits or hostile treatment at the job centre. Both of these issues can have a detrimental effect on both physical and mental health.

Acting earlier for social security

Perhaps by looking at social security through an early action lens we can re-imagine it as something that stops problems from occurring in the first place, rather than a safety net that catches those who have fallen.

Community Links and the Early Action Task Force will explore some of these ideas in a paper that will be published this autumn. We will show that the social security system should not be seen as the ‘fourth emergency service’, even though responding to emergencies in a timely and cohesive manner (‘running those ambulances’) is very important. Social security should be underpinned by earlier, more generous and universal support, both in terms of cash transfers and public services. In doing so it could not only yield a triple dividend (thriving lives, costing less, and enabling people to contribute more), but also ensure that every individual in our society feels more secure.

It is important to challenge the prevailing ethos that ‘cutting the benefits bill’ is a good idea. We need to return to and re-evaluate the underpinning principles of our social security system and see it as an investment: in individuals, in communities and, ultimately, in the whole of our society.

Thriving Lives: Costing Less, Contributing More

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

I walked the long way home on Saturday afternoon. I’d just bumped into a someone I first met at Community Links many years ago. Back then he was falling in and out of children’s homes and foster families. Sometimes it was his fault, sometimes it was theirs, but nothing seemed to work out. He drifted into crime. Silly things at first. Then more serious. Around him, in the family and on the street, was child abuse, violence, alcoholism and mental illness. Debt, homelessness and unexplained disappearances were the recurring harbingers of another harsh uprooting throughout his childhood years.

Sometimes we would see him every day. Support with learning, legal advice, social skills; later budgeting and parenting. A close relationship with the family must have spanned two decades. Last time I saw him at Community Links he had a baby on his shoulders. Now the baby is at secondary school.

Nothing can restore a lost childhood and nothing worked fast but now, it seems, the mould may be broken chiefly by the sheer determination of the individual, but also by the consistent support of others beginning  in crisis  and moving on to help build confidence and develop skills. Now the family thrive independently and contribute whole heartedly.

I was thinking about the path they had taken and about the ambition of the Early Action Task Force whose first report is published today.  We picture a society in which we are all ready and able to benefit from opportunity, to learn at primary school, to thrive in secondary. Job ready at 17, to be good parents when the time comes and, because we all experience difficulties at some point in our lives, ready and able also to manage adversity.

We picture this “ready for everything” community at the top of a cliff, where universal  “enabling services“  equip us to flourish. Even here things can go wrong. “Prompt interventions” at the cliff-edge pick up the first signs of difficulty and respond to them. Further down the cliff-face the service becomes more targeted at those with more developed problems and prompt intervention gets closer to an acute service. Eventually it is primarily focused on containing” a problem at the bottom of the cliff rather than on forestalling it.

The family of my friend have climbed up the hill to the point where the only services they access are the universal enablers like a great school and a good GP.

I thought about their journey as we prepared this week for the launch of the first report. We don’t imagine for a moment that our ideas are definitive or even the right ones but we do want to stimulate debate, develop understanding and galvanise commitment.

Over the course of the coming months we want to achieve two things;

  • First practical support for a common goal: To become a society that is ready for everything.  Not an objective that will be shared by every organisation of course but one that could be shared by enough to be truly described as a national ambition.
  • Second, a “to do” list with the actions that we might take individually, corporately, collaboratively to achieve the ambition, worthwhile one by one, transformational in aggregate

Stopping problems from occurring rather than picking up the pieces and counting the cost isn’t easy.  Embraced enthusiastically it is life changing.

Today sees the launch of the Early Action Taskforce’s first report, The Triple Dividend.
To find out more visit and check back tomorrow when we will have a report back from the launch.