People not problems – Politicians respond to five experiences of severe and multiple disadvantage

This report is about the tens of thousands 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. These problems and experiences coincide with each other and complicate the ability of public services to provide support. Too many people fall through the gaps between different types of help or have their problems exacerbated by ill-suited support from ill-equipped
public services.

Governments, service providers, campaigners and charities have all adopted different phrases to describe this challenge: ‘complex needs’, ‘multiple needs’, ‘deep, chronic or extreme social exclusion’, or ‘severe and multiple disadvantage’. The latter is the term this
report adopts.

Severe and multiple disadvantage is defined by Lankelly Chase, a foundation that campaigns on these issues and the funding partner for this report, as describing the ‘interlocking nature of [severe] social harms’. ii The foundation says the term helps to avoid focusing on specific needs and implying that the challenges people face originate from their own personal characteristics rather than being caused by systemic disadvantage.

The challenge of systematic and interlocking disadvantage is not new. Successive generations of policymakers have grappled with the root causes of poverty and unemployment, violence and trauma, family breakdown and neglect. While some interventions have had success, the problem today is in many ways worse than it has ever been. Austerity has contributed to an increase in child poverty, rough sleeping and drug deaths. Stretched public services are struggling to provide the necessary level of help, with charitable provision failing to fill the gaps.

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