New research by homelessness charity St Mungo’s lays bare the startling impact of cuts to mental health services on homeless people.
It’s a chilling example of how austerity targets society’s most vulnerable people.
Hand in hand
St Mungo’s conducted a survey of outreach services in London. It found that 158 rough sleepers have died in the city between 2010 and 2017. But what’s most shocking is that 80% of those who died in 2017 had mental health needs compared with just 29% in 2010.
Living with mental health conditions unfortunately goes hand in hand with homelessness. Research by Homeless Link indicates that 80% of homeless people have reported a mental health issue and that 45% have officially been diagnosed with one. This is compared to just 25% of the general public having an official diagnosis.
Cuts, cuts, cuts
This government loves cuts. It breathes them. And this insatiable need to cull has hit mental health services hard. As The Canary previously reported:
research by the Royal College of Psychiatrists found that mental health trusts in England received £105m less in real terms in 2016-2017 than in 2011-2012.
So it’s no surprise that some people with serious mental health issues are waiting two years to receive specialist NHS help.
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Additionally, local authorities under pressure to rise to the government’s perverse austerity challenge have cut multiple mental health and support services aimed specifically at homeless people. And NHS bosses have joined in on the act too. This has included greatly reducing funding for key homeless mental health teams, such as the Focus Homeless Outreach Team in Camden, North London.
Hitting homeless people hardest
Writing in the Guardian, chief executive of YMCA Birmingham Alan Fraser explains how cuts play out on the ground:
Today, we have one worker for every 18 residents. That means we are unable to take on people with more complex problems like serious drug use or mental health problems, because it’s not safe for us to do so. The bed spaces are now available to different people, and people at a higher risk have nowhere to go but the street.
Living on the street can become like a prison. The hardship of rough sleeping often exacerbates people’s mental health conditions. And when support shrinks away, those with the most significant needs become locked in. A desperation to cut back blinds support services. They end up seeing only pound signs when someone admits to living with a serious condition.
Priority need? Prove it.
Many rough sleepers living with a mental health condition may be eligible for assistance from local authorities. Statutory homeless legislation states that if someone is ‘homeless’, ‘eligible’ and in ‘priority need’, a local authority must offer interim accommodation. And living with a mental health condition can often mean someone is classed as vulnerable and thus in ‘priority need’.
I previously worked for a local authority. Many councils shun rough sleepers who approach as homeless and state that they have a mental health condition. The need to cut costs in the face of spiralling demand means local authorities (especially in cities) will often only provide accommodation if an applicant proves they have no choice but to do so. I continually saw rough sleepers approach for assistance, only to be cast away. This was often because they couldn’t provide proof of their mental health conditions. “I am waiting for a referral” or “I was seeing someone but it stopped for some reason” were all too common reasons.
In Tory Britain, the requirement to cut costs has triumphed over empathy. This government has cut services back to the point where those who are most in need are often shut out. They’re viewed only through their capacity to suck up precious resources.
Until this ethos changes, the UK will continue to be shamed by people dying on its streets.
– Support grassroots group Streets Kitchen.
– Support Single Homeless Project.
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