Speaking to The Big issue, the classicist said austerity is pushing people into illness
Famed scholar Mary Beard is clear on how we should tackle what she calls an “anxiety epidemic” in the UK.
Speaking to The Big Issue ahead of the return of pop culture show Front Row Late, she pointed out that spiralling mental illness figures must be considered alongside austerity and underfunded services in order to see the full picture.
The classicist asked if “you can talk about anxiety and mental health issues without thinking about all the other things people are suffering”.
She continued: “We have an anxiety epidemic and talk about those things very differently now, but it is not that anxiety didn’t exist.
“There is a rather basic, self-evident point, which is that people who haven’t got enough money to live on are anxious. I can remember what it is like if you put your card into the machine and it says, “Bugger off, you haven’t got any money.”
She also gently warned against placing all responsibility for the planet’s future on young environmental activists.
“It is very easy to think that the next generation will do it,” she said.” I remember one Cambridge meeting where we were choosing an early-career candidate and they all looked brilliant. The chair wisely said, don’t worry, we all looked like that once.
“There is a lot about the way this country is heading that worries me a great deal. But we are a collaborative species. Some of the things we are seeing at the moment I hope are a blip.”
Read the full interview in this week’s Big Issue, available from your local vendor or in the Big Issue shop.
As fundraising for the Sleep in the Park charity event breaks £1 million, Jack McKeown talks to its founder Josh Littlejohn about what the money will do to tackle homelessness.
On Saturday December 8, thousands of people will sleep rough in Scotland’s four biggest cities to raise money to tackle homelessness.
Of course the awful reality is thousands of people sleep outdoors in Scotland every night of the year because they have no other choice.
Sleep in the Park takes place in Dundee, Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow and will see people get a taste of homelessness while raising money to tackle one of the saddest blights on 21st Century Scotland.
The event is run by the charity Social Bite, which was founded in 2012 by Josh Littlejohn and Alice Thompson.
Fundraising has just smashed through the £1 million barrier and Josh said he was delighted with the built up to the event.
“We’re just past 1,000 people signed up in Dundee and the same again in Aberdeen,” he said. “And we’ve got 2,500 in Glasgow. We’ve also broken £1 million in fund raising already, which is excellent.
“The target for the event is £4 million but the majority of donations come in the last two weeks before the event so I’m very happy that we’ve made a great start.”
The money will be used to secure 830 flats in five Scottish cities that will give rough sleepers their own home.
“In Dundee we’ll have 100 flats. That’s 100 people who will have their own home for the first time,” Josh added. “Over Scotland we want to get 830 people off the streets and into a place they can call their own.”
The properties have been leased from local authorities, housing associations, and a small number of private landlords.
“We’re targeting those at the most extreme end of the spectrum, who have been homeless for a long time and are often dealing with very difficult challenges in their lives.
“Our premise is people are best equipped to deal with those challenges from a place they can call home. If you’re sleeping rough or living in hostels it’s almost impossible to deal with any challenges from such an insecure base.”
As well as providing accommodation for the first 18 months, money raised by Sleep in the Park will give people personalised support to help improve their lives.
“Our strategy involves what’s called a ‘by name’ list,” Josh continued. “Local charities and councils know the names and backstories of those most badly affected by homelessness. They’ll know ‘John Smith’ from Dundee has been homelessness for three years and has mental health issues.
“We want to track John Smith down, give him his own home and personalised support. Some people will need help dealing with mental health or addiction issues. Others may just need help with paying bills, grocery shopping or setting up a direct debit.”
Ultimately, Social Bite wants to come as close as possible to eliminating homelessness in Scotland. “If you take Dundee as example, with the right focus, resources and political will, there’s no reason why homelessness there shouldn’t become a thing of the past.”
Members of the public can join Sleep in the Park by committing to raise a minimum of £100. Businesses can sponsor the event by signing up a team of five with a minimum fundraising commitment for £3,000.
To find out more about taking part visit www.sleepinthepark.co.uk.
Fears for rough sleepers as specialist north London unit faces 42% budget reduction
NHS bosses are under fire for cutting back a team of doctors and nurses who provide mental health care to one of Britain’s largest groups of homeless people.
Camden NHS Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) in north London is giving the Focus Homeless Outreach team £219,866 less a year starting on 1 April, a leaked CCG document reveals. One of the team’s two psychiatrists and one of its six nurses will lose their jobs as a result.
The CCG is pressing ahead with the 42% cut to the £521,000 budget it gave the team this year despite a storm of protest from local GPs, psychiatrists, homeless charities and managers of hostels where rough sleepers sometimes stay. Camden had the third highest rate of rough sleeping in England in 2017, recent government statistics showed – more than Manchester, Bristol and Cornwall.
Focus, set up 25 years ago, helps treat the high levels of depression, psychosis and other mental health conditions found in rough sleepers, hostel dwellers and “sofa surfers”, including some asylum seekers and people who have been trafficked. Its budget is being reduced even though it is regarded by NHS, local council and social work bosses in London as a model of good practice of how to reach the kind of group that often shuns traditional NHS services.
Consultant psychiatrists at Camden and Islington NHS trust have privately criticised cutting Focus’s budget as a “terrible” blow to a “priceless” service. “Yes, there are unprecedented financial challenges, but it’s pretty appalling that a vulnerable and voiceless group would be left so unsupported,” said one.
Another said: “I find the decision extremely hard to understand, given the high number of homeless people in Camden. Without the Focus team, some of the worst-off members of society will lack proper access to psychiatric care.” Another warned that untreated mental health problems could also potentially lead to incidents of crime and violence.
Family doctors at Camden Health Improvement Practice, a GP surgery near Euston station which treats homeless people’s physical health needs, have told the CCG in a letter that they are in a state of disbelief about Focus’s budget cut. It gives essential mental health support to homeless people when they are arrested or admitted to hospital as an emergency, they said.
Prof Roland Littlewood, an emeritus professor of psychiatry at University College London who used to work with Focus, said: “The proposed cuts cannot be clinically justified and I would consider them quite dangerous. When we in the future contemplate the increased number of preventable deaths in the service, it will be too late.
“If May and Hunt are promising increased support for mental health services, then where is it? The homeless are the most vulnerable to declining social and medical support.”
Camden CCG originally planned to cut £421,000 (81%) of its funding to the team to help meet its savings target under the NHS-wide Quality, Innovation, Productivity and Prevention plan, but reduced that to £219,866 after opposition. It claims other services will provide support for the work Focus can no longer do, but failed to provide any details.
Senior figures at University College Hospital in Camden are worried that limiting Focus’s work will lead to more rough sleepers turning up at its A&E in a state of mental health crisis.
Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents NHS trusts, praised national health service leaders for giving mental health greater priority. But, she added, Camden CCG’s decision “confirms once again what mental health trust leaders have been telling us about the growing gap between the government’s welcome ambition for the care of people with mental health needs and the substantial challenges facing core mental health services.
“Money earmarked for mental health is not consistently reaching the frontline. It is particularly important that vulnerable people such as the homeless are able to access mental health services.”
Camden CCG said: “Due to significant financial challenges, the NHS is having to make difficult decisions and it has been necessary to reduce funding of the Focus homeless service. Camden CCG have worked with Camden & Islington NHS Foundation Trust to reconfigure the service so that it dedicates it efforts to helping those with the most complex needs. Those with less complex needs will be signposted to other suitable health and care services in Camden.”
A LONG-term homeless man has revealed that he came close to suicide because of his desperate financial plight.
He blames a vicious spiral of not being able to afford an Inverness property and his intense anxiety for not being able to work.
Merseyside-born Allan Woodward (31) moved to the Highland capital about three years ago to be closer to his young son after a break-up with his partner.
After a brief spell sleeping rough, he has since lived in temporary accommodation including several months under Moray Council’s wing in Forres.
Mr Woodward’s life-threatening drama ended with a court conviction for possessing a knife in a public place.
“The knife wasn’t aimed at anybody else, it was aimed at my throat,” he said.
A tragedy was avoided because, in desperation, he called the police himself.
“I contacted them before I actually went onto the roof of the Rose Street car park,” he said.
Mr Woodward claimed the council had acknowledged that his 150 ‘points’ – graded under a system of personal circumstances including the period of homelessness – is unprecedented.
But his persistence in trying to find an affordable Inverness home has proved fruitless and he claims being English has not helped his cause. The council has insisted no-one is discriminated against.
“I just want to be housed,” he said. “So, okay, living in rented accommodation I’ve got a roof over my head but I suffer from mental health difficulties and it doesn’t help my anxiety.
“I’ve known people who’ve been housed a lot quicker than me.
“I’ve been a homeless neighbour to two men who’ve been housed before me – and they had less points than me.
“The council are very flippant. They continually assure me that I’m top of the list but they’ve been doing so for the last six months.”
His plight surfaced almost a year ago after it emerged that 900 homes were standing empty in the city while nearly 1000 people were registered as living in temporary accommodation.
Mr Woodward said at the time that he could not afford to work because his supported temporary accommodation – funded by housing benefit – costs hundreds of pounds per week and private lets are too costly.
A spokeswoman for Highland Council said anyone making contact with concerns about their security of tenure, or potential or actual homelessness will be treated with respect and in confidence. She therefore declined to comment on an individual case.
THIS RAF VETERAN WILL BE WALKING MORE THAN 1,400 MILES
A brave RAF veteran will be walking more than 1,400 miles this Christmas after he became homeless due to mental health and alcohol issues.
Starting on Monday Steven Thomas, 39, will be walking from his hometown in Blaengwynfi in Neath Port Talbot across the Brecon Beacons and into parts of east England and London.
Sleeping rough, he will chat to other homeless veterans along the way in a bid to raise awareness, help others, and share his own experiences.
Since leaving the British Forces in 2003, where he served in Canada, Germany, Bosnia, Falkland Islands, Georgia and Cyprus, ex-RAF communications operator Steve has suffered with severe mental health issues.
During the last decade these issues have led to several suicide attempts as well as health issues and problems with alcoholism.
It also left him homeless.
“My mental health issues led me to attempt suicide several times, my heart stopped three times due to alcohol poisoning, and eventually I became homeless,” Steve wrote in a personal blog in the armed forces magazine Easy Resettlement.
“I have driven away many loved ones over the years as I shut myself off believing I wasn’t worthy of their love.”
After years of living on the streets Steve’s sister eventually made contact with him. Unfortunately it was with the sad news that their mum had died.
Steve had not spoken to his mum in more than two years before that.
“These traumatic events forced me into a place that gave me, as I saw it, two options,” he said.
“To take the long sleep once and for all and put an end to the relentless pain or stand up and be proud of the real me again.
“I chose to love me.
“I couldn’t lose any more beautiful people from my life and I couldn’t undo what I had done or bring my loved ones back.
“As I grew stronger I felt I couldn’t let this keep happening to so many others out there on the streets: veterans, my brothers and sisters who have given so much to our country.
“I was blessed. After many years of pushing my family away they were still there for me when I decided to live again.
“Not everyone is so fortunate.”
Steve said his challenge now was to be as open and honest as he can about his journey through what he describes as the “dark days” of his mental health.
“I still don’t think mental health issues are accepted enough,” he said.
“I felt so much shame which separated me from society – driving me deeper into darkness.”
Steve is now sharing his experience in the hope of helping other veterans who might find themselves in similar situations.
He’s embarking on a mammoth 1,400-mile walk through Wales and England over Christmas and New Year.
Throughout his journey Steve will be sleeping rough and reaching out to homeless veterans in the hope of spreading his message.
“I want to raise awareness that there are so many of our veterans homeless this Christmas and suffering with their mental health and unable to ask for help.
“Like me they feel worthless and not worthy of asking for or taking help.
“I also want to show people that it’s not shameful to talk about their problems – it has been my road to recovery.”
Steve will be walking 25 miles a day for 50 days between December 18 and February 18.
He will start in his home village of Blaengwynfi before heading over the Brecon Beacons up to north Wales, crossing over to the east of England, and down through London, the south coast and back to south Wales.
With the money he raises Steve will share a cup of tea and some food with homeless people he meets along they way.
“I know from my own experience that homelessness is not something you choose. It’s not a nice place to be while suffering with your mental health,” he said.
“I already didn’t like myself and then I felt like people were looking at me with either pity or by judging me. This led to a huge downward spiral that I just couldn’t see a way out of.
“Hopefully my challenge will not only show people how many of our veterans are suffering this Christmas but also let those that are suffering know how many care.”
A video documenting Steve’s journey has been made by his childhood friend and filmmaker Ciaran Gibbons , who is also a veteran of the British Armed Forces.
Ciaran said: “I just wanted to help highlight an old school friend’s battle against his own demons and also his efforts to help others.”