Our joint report shows that, despite different opinions, there are cross-party answers to entrenched social problems—and a profound need for changeby Andy Cook and Andrew Harrop / October 29, 2019 / Leave a comment
People facing severe disadvantage are potential to be developed not problems to be solved. Politicians, policy-makers and governments too often look at a person’s situation and come up with their own strategies to fix it. Too rarely do we listen—really listen—to their stories, lives, and experiences and form policy based on a true understanding of the complexity of disadvantage and the assets that people have to overcome it.
And too rarely do policy-makers and politicians from across the political spectrum come together to seek answers to entrenched social problems. That’s why the Fabian Society and Centre for Social Justice decided to jointly publish “People not Problems,” a new report that asks Conservative and Labour politicians to respond to the real-life challenges of people who face multiple complex problems such as homelessness, drug and alcohol misuse, experience of the criminal justice system, serious mental health problems, and cycles of violence, abuse or trauma.
The report starts with five stories: five people telling us what extreme social disadvantage really looks like and feels like. As they do so, three things become immediately clear.
First, the problems of severe multiple disadvantages start young and demand early intervention. We heard from “Lucy,” who was placed with 19 foster families before she was eight years old; from “Keith” who had left education and served his first sentence in a young offenders’ institute by age 15; and “William” who grew up in an abusive household. By the time we are looking at healthcare interventions, welfare support, and the adult criminal justice system we are already years too late.
Second, the five stories highlight that governments may work in silos but people do not. Governments may deal with mental health, education, and disability through several different departments. But they all factor into the single daily struggle of children like “Louise,” growing up in difficult circumstances. When public services fail to work together, it’s not simply that people fall through the cracks, it is that the support that agencies provide cannot relate to real life.
And third, we find that everybody has assets—strengths you can build on. Too often our services do things to people, leaving them powerless in their own lives. Enabling people means building on what they do have, not pointing out what they don’t.
“William” speaks emotionally of how his family supported him in his darkest days; “Rebecca” talks about how an acting part as a dancer in a play transformed her confidence; “Lucy” talks about her ambitions for her education. These are building blocks for better futures.
These five stories then formed the foundations for ten contributions from Labour and Conservative politicians. With authors ranging from Lisa Nandy to John Redwood, there are obvious differences in their approaches. But there are also areas of strong agreement.
In an age of increasingly polarised public debate it is heartening that for all of the political disagreements politicians have, there are also causes around which they can all rally. In particular, it is good to see consensus around early intervention, joined-up services and agile responses to complex problems.
“People not Problems” shows how much politicians, policy-makers and governments can agree on when they start by listening to people.
Andy Cook is chief executive of the Centre for Social Justice and Andrew Harrop is general secretary of the Fabian Society