The Devastating Plight Of Kent Families Hit By Austerity By Kelly Grehan and Lisa Mulholland

This past week has highlighted how the people of Kent are suffering from further cuts to services.

On Monday it was announced that Kent County Council had decided to press ahead with the £400,000 cuts to breastfeeding support services.

This was despite a staggering 1,294 responses to the consultation (the average last year was 156 per consultation) and an evidence based campaign from ‘Keep Kent Breastfeeding’.

Data from Unicef indicates that 81% of mothers wish to breastfeed their babies at birth, but only 17% babies are still exclusively breastfed at 3 months.

The health benefits of breastmilk are well known.  We are particularly concerned over the impact on the emotional health of mums who want to breastfeed and are not supported to do so, and as such experience a sense of failure, this is at a time when postnatal depression is on the rise.

A 2015 study by Netmums indicated that one quarter of all new mums experience loneliness.

NCT research shows that good breastfeeding support has practical and psychological benefits for mothers; impacting on the wellbeing of their babies.

Breastfeeding support workers had the luxury of having time to spend with mums. I think we all recognise that, with the best will in the world, Health Visitors who will be expected to take on the task and void left as a result of these plans will not have the time to spend with women.

It seems KCC did not comprehend the value of breast peer support workers and thought only of the initial costs.

Maybe, having awarded themselves a 12% pay rise last year maybe it is inevitable KCC Councillors would need to make cuts.

The cuts to breastfeeding support were not the only indication that family needs are not the priority of KCC this week.

Last Friday The Royal College of Psychiatrists revealed Kent have only 3.75 child and adolescent psychiatrists per 100,000 children.

The lowest number in the country.

In London, the tally is around 17.  With a national average of around 8, it is evident that Kent is leap years behind the UK.

And that is no mean feat when you consider many councils and people across the UK as a whole are suffering immensely from austerity.

The toll it takes on parents and families is immeasurable.

I ( Lisa) have written about my personal battle with child mental health services as a Kent parent and was asked to appear on the BBC local news to talk about the effect it has had on me and many other families throughout Kent. You can read my article here https://theavengeruk.com/2017/09/18/my-open-letter-to-the-pm-about-how-austerity-affected-my-childs-mental-health/

It is a sad fact that life is not easy for many Kent children.

The End Child Poverty Coalition estimate more than 93,000 children in Kent are living in poverty.

Shelter estimate 2000 children in Kent are homeless.

An investigation it carried among people living in emergency B&Bs and hostels found every family living in a single room, with 25% having no access to a kitchen and 50% having to share toilet and bathroom facilities.

Imagine growing up in those conditions!! And it begs the question, where is the help for these families?

The suffering and endless misery does not stop there.

Since 2015 the average Tory cut in funding to each primary school has been £54,000, and to each secondary school it has been £205,000.

Teachers and parents are having to fund vital equipment. And now they’ve denied 1m children a free hot school meal. Unless the DUP own you of course; children Northern Ireland is exempt from these cuts

It seems that no service is safe.

Maybe it is unfair to place the blame squarely on KCC.  Tory austerity has hit them hard.

For example:

● The council is expected to make around £75m of savings next year, out of a £900m budget.

● In the past five years the council’s grant from central government has been cut by £185.4m.

● The council says it has made savings to the tune of £417m in the same period, because of the drop in funding and increased demand in services

But yet this remains the sixth richest country in the world!

Yet at every turn our children are failed time and time again. Budgets are cut to shreds and it seems to be children who are on the receiving end. What a sad state of affairs this is.

We will be taking a closer look over the coming week of how austerity has affected services across Kent.

Without awareness we cannot seek to change what is happening.

A Desperate Plea From A Relative Of A Rough Sleeper By The Masked Avenger Anonymous

We have all walked past a rough sleeper on the street. Sometimes we give it a second thought. Sometimes we stop and chat, maybe even try to help.

But mostly we walk on by.

Most of us are fortunate enough to have never been there and while we sympathise, we often try and forget it and move on with our busy lives. Rushing to get somewhere; an appointment or some such.

We often don’t see the person beyond the sleeping bag. Sometimes it is very hard to imagine how someone got there. The government dehumanise rough sleepers. They advise us not to feed them as though they are pigeons in Trafalgar Square. They put spikes on floors to stop them being able to get some shelter in a shop doorway. Again treated like pests. So it’s no wonder that we walk on by. Sometimes it is a taboo subject.

But for me it is different. I happen to know a rough sleeper very personally.

You might want to ask me a few questions. Does anyone help him? Is he loved? Do you help him? The answer is yes. To all of the above.

But our help is not enough and the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ he gets into this position is what is complex.

My uncle has undiagnosed mental health conditions. He is an addict. Self medicating I guess. He has never had the support he needed from the professionals. And this is the product of years of neglect.

Born in the 60s to parents with severe mental health issues that lost everything down to gambling, my uncle was not diagnosed with anything himself or supported. Instead when the family broke down, my grandmother had a mental breakdown and no one was there to help. The authorities left my grandmother to it and just took my uncle away into care when he was 7. And that was the start of it. In and out of care. In and out of trouble.

” A handful, naughty, out of control, the mother can’t cope”

While he was in the place that was supposed to care for him, he was abused.

He went in as a child with problems and came out disturbed with even bigger problems.

No one knew what happened at the time. This is only a recent revelation. So he continued. In and out of trouble causing merry hell for the family.

As he got to adulthood he started to ‘self medicate’ and slowly but surely became an addict. Which led to petty crime, prison. And eventually being institutionalised .

“A write off'”

On paper yes. But what no one else saw was the snippets of the man he could have been if the support had been there during his childhood.

Detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure, he had structure, routines and he flourished. He took courses and passed them all. He read and learned and became a talented writer.

He did endless courses and took all of the opportunities he could. He grabbed them with both hands.So when he went back into the outside world he started his own business, he even wrote for a national newspaper as a regular columnist. He became a published author. Some semblance of a normal life was finally coming his way.

He was capable and intelligent and we could see the person he could become if he’d been given more support as a youngster.

But things happened and again the support fell away. Without the guidance of a probation officer, without the structure, his mental health problems that simmered under the surface reared their ugly, scathing, self destructing head again.

Addiction came back with a vengeance and along came some new ones too.

So we saw him slip back. He lost everything and again he went on the slippery slope into the abyss of addiction and self destruct.

So, we try to help as a family, but its not possible to keep an eye on him 24/7.

The downward spiral was and is fast and relentless;he loses touch of where he is and he ends up on the street. He loses contact with any kind of support network and before you know it he is sleeping rough.

We can’t track him. We don’t know where he is.

We’ve had phone calls in the past from wonderful passer bys that have tried to help him. In his moments of lucidity he remembers a number of a random relative and some very nice person decides to help him and calls.

We then hear he’s been in various places begging as he has lost everything. So we get there and we have to try and get him some help. He’s unwell and doesn’t know where he is. The police come and tell us not to bother with A and E as they are overcrowded but that they will try to help him.

Do you notice that even though I’m describing events in the past that I am using present tense? Why you might ask?

Because this is a recurring event. This happened last month but it could happen tomorrow, next week, next month. We never know what will happen next. This is the pattern that happens over and over again.

Services that are cut to shreds still try their best to help him. There are genuinely good mental health staff, hospital staff, police officers and key workers out there.

But it’s not enough.

The services need to be joined up. They need more funding to give him the intensive therapy and support for his mental health needs as this is the root to all of his problems, I believe.

But all that happens is the problem is treated that day. Acute support is given while he is physically unwell. But there is not enough in place to prevent this from happening again.

So I sit here and wonder what people must think when they walk past him. When he ends up on the street, bounding in and out of shops, trying to get someone to help him.

They will never see the man he can be. The man he has been, the man he could have been.

Every person has a story, but homeless people are nothing more than pests to the Tories.

If we followed the advice that they give us, which is to ignore a homeless person, don’t give them money or food; if every passer by that has helped my uncle thus far listened to this advice that this ‘government’ dish out my uncle would be dead by now. Perhaps that’s what they want. By treating homeless people like pests perhaps they think they will just die off.

But instead there are good people out there, people try to help. And for now he and we are riding our luck. That might just change one day. And we dread phone calls sometimes. What will happen next we just don’t know.

So I want to say to the people that help, the doctors, the nurses, the passers by, the staff in Pret that give out food, the key workers: Thank You!!!

Don’t ever change and maybe one day if we fight hard enough we will have a government that cares too so that real change can happen and people living in the streets being dehumanised by a callous government will be a thing of the past.

The Rough Sleeping Homeless- A Growing Problem by Eddie Luigi

At this time of year Christians everywhere are reminded that Mary and Joseph found themselves homeless, in Bethlehem, through no fault of their own, but because a physically distant government passed a law to determine how much tax they could collect, in order to keep their privileged citizens in the luxury that they had become accustomed to.

Two thousand and seventeen years later, in English towns and cities, you don’t need to walk far to be reminded that, just like Mary and Joseph, there are now many people who find themselves homeless through no fault of their own, because an emotionally distant government passes laws to determine how much tax they could collect in order to keep their privileged citizens in the luxury they have become accustomed to.

The idea of taxes is a redistribution of wealth. That redistribution of wealth should be for the benefit of the many wealth producers and not solely for the benefit of the privileged few.

I think that a good Christmas present for the homeless would be for the government to put as much effort into their house building policies as they put into their rhetoric about how much they have done, whilst failing to mention how much they have not done that they promised to do.

There are currently 4,000 people sleeping rough and over 300,000 people classed as homeless in England, according to the charity Shelter.

The figure for the rough sleepers has increased by 134% since the Tories came to power in 2010.

Isn’t it time Theresa May and her government owned up to this figure instead of trying to lie about it?

Happiness: A Basic Human Right? Not According To The Tories By Eddie Luigi 

By Eddie Luigi 


Let me make this clear from the start. Generally I am happy and content. 

I view happiness as a three legged stool, with happiness as the seat and the three legs of home, health and an honest wage for an honest job.
Any of you who have studied psychology will be aware of Maslow and his hierarchy of needs. 

Which in a nutshell means until you have achieved the basic needs you cannot go on to achieve any of the more humanistic needs. 



The basic needs at the bottom of the hierarchy are food, water, warmth, rest security and safety. Without these essentials it is impossible to proceed up the hierarchy and achieve happiness and fulfil ones potential.


It’s like a game of ‘snakes and ladders’ sometimes you’re going up and sometimes you go down and have to start the climb again.

So, my view is that, until you have the basics of home, health and an honest wage, you can’t even begin to think about happiness. Then if one of those three legs of the stool is missing, happiness comes tumbling down.

But since the tories came to power in 2010, millions of people in England are struggling to gain the basic needs. Hard to believe but the figures do not lie:

4,134 sleeping rough ( up 134% since tories got in 2010) in England.
Almost 1.2 million needed emergency three day food parcels.

250,000 as registered homeless in England.

Around 4 million private renting in England. Most of these will have yearly or month to month contracts, with no basic security. 

That is a lot of people that can’t reach a happy state, or fulfil their potential.

Many self help books advise you to simplify and find happiness in the little everyday things.
This does not seem good advice if you have no home and your day is taken up by wondering where you can sleep safely tonight. 

Nor does it help if your physical or mental health means that your day is taken up wondering if you can be cured, or taken up trying to overcome the splinter in your mind that feeds the self doubts about your looks, your weight, your usefulness or your worth. 

That advice must surely be ignored if after you honest day’s work your ‘honest’ day’s wage, topped up by social welfare, is still not enough to meet your budgetary needs for housing, feeding and clothing your family.

I fear that in our current political situation not everyone will have the three stool legs necessary to think about happiness.




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The UK, Where We Mourn Bells While People Sleep On The Streets By Kelly Grehan 

By Kelly Grehan

Yesterday it was quietly announced that the cost of the renovations to the Elizabeth Tower had doubled to £61 million. Having recently written to my own MP about the lack of public sector pay rises, and having received a reply saying ‘we have to live within our means’ I was somewhat surprised to hear the magic money tree was once again available.  

You will remember back in August when our Prime Minister, not known for her sentimentality, expressed her upset at news that the bell commonly known as Big Ben, was to cease chiming for the period of work, saying ‘it can’t be right for Big Ben to be silent for four years.’ 
She urged John Bercow, the Speaker, to find a way to keep the bell ringing – although what she felt he could do remains to be seen. 

In a country where 250,000 people are homeless, where the number of people waiting more than 6 month for an operation has trebled in the past four years and where Sure Start and care services are being cut that buildings are a priority. 

Of course, The Elizabeth Tower is not the only public building about to be gifted public funds for a renovation. Last year it was announced that Buckingham Palace is to undergo a 10-year refurbishment to the tune of £369m. Work on The Houses of Parliament is estimated to cost around £7 billion. Now I understand Parliament is a Grade I-listed building and a Unesco world heritage site, but I suggest the fact it is in need of extensive restoration is due to it no longer being fit for purpose to fulfil its role. Maybe we should accept it is time to move Parliament elsewhere. While we are at it we can build student style hall of residence for MPs to stay in next door so they will no longer require second homes in London.   
Now people will argue that these buildings are important, are part of our heritage, of historic importance etc. But you know what else is important? People! I cannot help thinking we have got our priorities wrong somewhere and the buildings taxpayers should be spending money on are those intended to house people. 

The signs homes are of no importance are everywhere. 

Housing , or lack thereof is ruining countless lives. Rough sleeping has risen for the last 6 years in a row. Latest official figures show an estimated 4,134 people were forced to sleep outside in 2016, up 16% on the previous year.
The number of families in temporary accommodation has risen by 61% since the tories came into power in 2010. Local authorities accepted 14,600 households as statutorily homeless in the first three months of 2017, with a total of 77,240 families in temporary housing. 6,500 families now live in B&Bs, which are used by local authorities when they have no other options, of these more than 3,000 have dependent or expected children.

The number of people on waiting lists for council housing in England alone stands at 1.2 million. This is despite rules making many people ineligible to apply. Very few of them will ever receive housing from the local authority. 

In January 2016 Labour sought to introduce an amendment to the Housing Bill which would ensure rented homes had to be fit for human inhabitation. Now it beggars belief that anyone could be allowed to make money renting a property unfit for humans to reside in and not be breaking any laws, but they can. The tories voted this amendment down. According to the latest English housing survey 30% of homes fail to meet the government’s decent homes standard. 

We know the awful tragedy which befell those living in Grenfell Tower occurred after residents warnings that the building was unsafe went unheeded by those in authority. It seems the £10 million refurbishment of the building went mostly on the cladding (about £8 million) rather than attempts to make the housing more inhabitable inside the homes.   

Then there are the millions of people who now make up Generation Rent, who, often despite earning above the average wage have no hope of affording a deposit to buy a property so are at the mercy of a largely unregulated and extortionate rental market.   

Every single person living without a permanent, safe or stable roof over their head represents a life not being enjoyed to its full potential and in my opinion indicates the failures of our society. We are always being told that austerity prevents us from addressing these problems, but when it come to fixing palaces and clocks the money is readily available.   

Isn’t it time we started putting people and homes above state buildings?   




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Grenfell : Neglect, Shock and the Idea Some Lives Are Worth More Than Others By Grehan

By Kelly Grehan 

It is now 100 days since the Grenfell fire.

In the days following the tragedy the emotion that overwhelmed me was anger that this had happened, and that although maybe the fire was not preventable, the loss of life was compounded by decisions taken in the name of austerity, deregulation, outsourcing and a general disregard for the economically poorer members of the community.  
As London Mayor Sadiq Khan said at the time “There is a feeling from the community that they’ve been treated badly because some of them are poor, some of them may come from deprived backgrounds, some of them may be asylum-seekers and refugees.”
As is now well known Grenfell Action Group warned the council and the estate management company of multiple fire hazards within the building including failing alarms, a lack of sprinklers and of faulty electrical wiring causing frequent power surges and small fires. They warned that the wholly cosmetic refurbishment of the building was a serious fire risk. 

Rather than heed these warnings the council responded with legal action against the group. 

For several decades now a denouncement of regulation has taken place. Phrases like ‘health and safety gone mad’ and ‘red tape’ are common. Free market think-tanks, such as the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Centre for Policy Studies and property developers lobby government against regulation.
In recent years it has become apparent that poorer people are no longer welcome in the Capital.

For example the demolition of social housing estates, such as the Heygate estate in Southwark, has made way for luxury flats with many bought by super-rich investors. Plots are often sold abroad in Asia or the Middle East prior to domestic sales.

The £83.7 million of cuts in Kensington since 2010 have disproportionately impacted servicers relied upon by poorer people. 

This includes closure of nurseries, of homelessness prevention schemes, of local A&E departments and in a move that says it all to me, there is an attempt to sell a public Library to a nearby fee-paying Prep School.

I can only conclude that the safety, health and quality of life of those in rented accommodation is seen as a secondary concern to profit. 

Last year, an amendment to the Housing Act tabled by Labour to introduce a legal requirement for landlords to ensure their homes are fit and safe for human habitation was voted down by Tory MPs including 71 who were themselves private landlords.



So the catastrophe that has occurred in Kensington causing, death, destruction, injury, trauma and displacement should not be dismissed as an accident. 

It is the culmination of policy and neglect aimed at those whose lives are regarded as less valuable. 

This is seen as unbelievable by those unfamiliar with being on the receiving end of policies designed to ‘punish’ those who are not high earners or wealth accumulators. But the circumstances and outcome of Grenfall are repeated throughout the world in places where neoliberalism rules. 

One such example is Hurricane Katrina which occurred, causing mass flooding in New Orleans in August 2005. It is easy to see it as a natural disaster, but that is to ignore the neglect in maintenance of the flood defences which should have protected the city from what was actually a tropical storm by the time it reached New Orleans. Despite previous repeated warnings the Army Corp of Engineers allowed the defences to fall into disrepair. 

This happened in the context of a neglect of infrastructure throughout America as neoliberal policies gained control. But is also relevant that the homes left the most vulnerable by the failure to fix the levees were those occupied by economically poor black people.  

After the storm it took five days to get water and food to people sheltering in the Superdome. In common with Grenfell people did what they could to help each other but, again in common with Grenfell the state failed. 

Divisions formed along class and racial lines. Healthy people of means were able to leave the city – others – vulnerable by nature of being unable to leave – stayed. 

As people began looting to survive, news outlets used the opportunity to paint the black residents as dangerous. A war zone atmosphere emerged as vigilantes and private security guards ‘’controlled’’ the streets. Survivors of Grenfell now speak of being let down by the council, living in transit in crowded hotel rooms, some without hot water.  

My concern in Kensington now is what happens next: Milton Friedman once said ‘Only a crisis-actual or perceived- produces real change.’ 

In New Orleans , with residents dispersed across the country and schools and homes in ruins; Friedman described this as an ‘opportunity’. Public housing, including that which was undamaged was demolished and replaced with housing far out of the price reach of those who had previously lived there. 

Mike Pence (now Us Vice president) chaired a meeting 14 days post disaster to look at ‘Pro-Free-Market Ideas for Responding to Hurricane Katrina.’ New Orleans quickly became the place with the most privately run schools.  



There must be real concern that Grenfell residents and those living in surrounding blocks are able to remain in the area in suitable accommodation. 

Any suggestion that people should be grateful for what they are offered should not be tolerated. 

Counselling and therapy services need to be offered as standard to anyone in the area impacted by what has occurred. Let us not forget many witnessed horrendous scenes and have lost friends.  
History, though leads to concerns that enquiries and cover ups can go on for decades. There is something about this situation which feels like Hillsborough to me, a feeling that the fight for justice here will not be easy and that nothing will change without a real fight.  

Indeed lessons could have been learnt after the Lakanal Tower block Fire in Southwark in 2009 which killed 6. 

Recommendations followed in 2013 but were never implemented, including one to fit sprinkler systems in all tower blocks. 

Lessons about outsourcing, which leads to responsibility and ultimately blame being diluted must be examined. But more than anything I hope we see a change in this attitude that some lives are worth more than others and that profit is worth endangering life for.

Everyone needs to stand up for this for us to have any hope of change.
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Isn’t It About Time We Tried A Holistic Approach To Mental Wellbeing? By Kelly Grehan

By Kelly Grehan

Mental health problems are the scourge of our time. 

Around one in four adults in England is diagnosed with a mental illness at some point in their lives. This includes depression (3.3 million people are currently diagnosed with this), eating disorders, psychosis, personality disorder and anxiety. 

The NHS spends around £11.7 billion on mental health, including £400 million on drugs every year. But all indicators are that this is woefully inadequate and terrifyingly 57% of Clinical Commissioning Groups planned to reduce their spending on mental health services this year.  

I fear we will make no progress in improving the overall mental health of citizens in this country whilst we continue to rely solely on a heavily stretched medical model to fix the problem. 

That is not to say that I am not absolutely in favour of increasing the mental health treatment budget (indeed I am a trainee counsellor). However I think we need to start looking at mental health in a holistic way. 

To quote a well known leaflet by charity Mind “good mental health isn’t something you have, but something you do.”

So I am cheered by the publication of the report Creative Health: 

‘The Arts for Health and Wellbeing from the All Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing http://www.artshealthandwellbeing.org.uk/appg-inquiry/

The report found that arts-led alternatives to conventional therapy and medicine could serve as effective treatments for many mental health issues. 

Some of the findings conclude that:
Music therapy reduces agitation and need for medication in 67% of people with dementia.

● An arts-on-prescription project has shown a 37% drop in GP consultation rates and a 27% reduction in hospital admissions. This represents a saving of £216 per patient.

Arts therapies have been found to alleviate anxiety, depression and stress while increasing resilience and wellbeing.

● Visual and performing arts in healthcare environments help to reduce sickness, anxiety and stress.

The heart rate of newborn babies is calmed by the playing of lullabies. The use of live music in neonatal intensive care leads to considerably reduced hospital stays.

● A 10-week art and craft programme with mothers experiencing anxiety and their children saw a 77 percent reduction in anxiety and depression and an 86 percent reduction in stress. The bonds between mothers and children improved, and the emotional, social and cognitive development of the children was stimulated.

None of these things sound unattainable to roll out across the country do they? 

I suggest that rather than finances being the problem, what is needed is a change in culture and an acceptance that mental wellbeing is something that requires investment and that should be addressed through multiple disciplines. 

Is one reason that mental health is not addressed in this way because the Ministry of Health works in a silo? 

Could an approach of working with the Department of Culture could have greater success?  
Is it possible this problem is compounded by an attitude that persists that art is something to be enjoyed by the privileged?

The proportion of GDP spent on the arts by the government remains below the European average

This was recognised in the Labour Party manifesto with a promise to rectify this and introduce an arts pupil premium for every primary school pupil, in line with the existing PE pupil premium. 

Announcing the policy Jeremy Corbyn said :

“There is creativity in all of us but we need to give people the opportunities for this creativity to flourish.”

Art based activity (including drama and music) is repeatedly shown to cut stress even if the person is not good at it!!

Therefore it is logical to assume that a if society gave people of every age access to art then they would have less mental health issues.  
Continuing with the theme of looking at holistic approach to wellbeing, last year Natural England published a study which reviewed the benefits and outcomes of approaches to green care for mental ill-health. Nature is known to be one of the most reliable boosts to mental health.

However it has strangely become less accessible to people as we spend more times in offices, cars and generally trapped indoors. 80% of people in England agree that the quality of the built environment influences the way they feel yet our environments are typically becoming more urbanised and our leisure time increasingly spent inside. 

It is unsurprising that as people live in increasingly overcrowded housing and towns that mental well being suffers. We know access to parks, rivers and natural improves lives: people who live in the areas within our cities and towns that have more green or blue space have better mental health.
 
As with art, a new approach is needed to ensure people of all ages are able to access and enjoy outdoor living. The evidence for this being of benefit is plentiful. For example:
Spending just 15 minutes a day in nature can boost focus and ease anxiety.

● From a mindfulness perspective being in nature helps us to become present.

Children who play outside are more physically active, which helps prevent obesity, heart disease, diabetes and other health issues

● Research done in hospitals, offices, and schools has found that even a simple plant in a room can have a significant impact on stress and anxiety.

It is a failing of our society that mental health remains so neglected in terms of recognition, treatment and approach. 

Let’s see a truly comprehensive integrated approach, across government departments and across all organisations including employers, aimed at improving emotional wellbeing. 

It is quite evident that such an approach and investment in relevant projects would save money and would lead to happier people, surely that should be the real goal of our community?


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