*This is a collaborative post*
The last decade has been a rocky period for Britain and a lot of sacrifices have been made. But they’ve come at a cost. Every day the news is full of stories about a struggling NHS, overcrowded prisons, and funding cuts for disabled people. All of this bad news raises one simple question.
Are we letting down the most vulnerable people in the country?
Most people don’t have much sympathy for prisoners. They’ve made the decision to commit a crime and they’re doing the time for it. That’s fair enough but what we often forget to think about is why they made those decisions in the first place. People that end up in prison are overwhelmingly from poor backgrounds. They are some of the most vulnerable people in the country and when they go to prison, the aim is to rehabilitate them so they can re enter society without making those same mistakes again. Unfortunately, that’s not the way that things go at the moment. More than a quarter of people that are released from prison re offend in just one year. Once people have been to prison, it’s very difficult for them to find work and reintegrate because they aren’t being given the education that they need while they’re in prison.
The reason that they don’t have access to the tools that they need to thrive on the outside is that there simply isn’t enough staff. Underfunding and lack of proper training means that staff in the prison aren’t able to deal with prisoners effectively and prepare them for life after their release. However, certain charities are trying to deal with this problem. While they can’t deal with the funding issues, the Unlocked Prison Graduate Scheme aims to get the best and brightest minds into the prison service. The hope is that these graduates can help to overhaul the prison service and come up with innovative ways to improve the service and take some of the strain off. This is an important step in the right direction but without more staff, the prison system will continue to produce re offenders at an alarming rate.
Elderly people are some of the most vulnerable people in the country and we have a duty to make sure that they are looked after properly. At the moment, we aren’t fulfilling that duty. The number of people choosing to work in social care is dropping rapidly and it’s having a big effect on care facilities for the elderly. There are countless stories in the news of care homes closing down or patients being left on their own for days. The problem isn’t with funding, the jobs are there and the money to pay for them is as well. The issue is that people simply don’t want to work in social care. There is a quick turnover in the industry and an estimated 340,000 people leave their social care jobs every single year, but why? A cap on pay for public sector workers is one of the main driving forces behind people’s decision to leave social care. It’s an incredibly difficult job and people feel that they aren’t being paid enough.
The result of this mass exodus from social care is a huge over reliance on agency workers. The problem is, when you’ve got a new nurse every few days, they don’t have time to learn all of the procedures in place. They also can’t build meaningful relationships with the people in the care facilities which is an important part of the job. It’s important for elderly people to have a good routine and be surrounded by people that make them feel comfortable and when they’re seeing different staff every day, they just aren’t getting this.
To make the problem even worse, the number of young people that are opting to train in social care is dwindling. The prospect of long hours, difficult work, and low pay isn’t that appealing to young people that are already concerned about money worries. If we don’t train enough new staff, the crisis is only going to get worse.
The rights of disabled people are one of the most contentious issues of the last few years. The UN recently released a report that said the UK was not doing enough to uphold the right of disabled people to live and work independently without discrimination. One of the main issues that the report raised was the effect of cuts to disability benefits that have caused people no end of difficulty. Whether you agree that it’s necessary for the country to tighten its purse strings or not, the most vulnerable people in our society should not be bearing the brunt of that. However, the UN report suggests that disabled people are. It says that the welfare reforms and benefit cuts are putting more disabled people into poverty than ever before and the benefit sanctions that some of them have been subject to are doing far more harm than good.
It also recognises problems in schooling for disabled children. We have a responsibility to make sure that their education is as inclusive as possible. The reality is that mainstream schools aren’t catering for disabled students enough and too many of them are put into specialist schools when they do not need to be. This lack of inclusion will have far reaching effects on their development in later life. Although the UK government have dismissed the report, disability charities say it’s a wake up call for them.
You can’t turn on the TV without hearing about the crisis in the NHS. One of the worst areas that is failing is the mental health service. There’s an epidemic, especially amongst young people, but the help that they need just isn’t there. Underfunding means that people are sometimes having to wait months or even years before getting the help that they need. It’s such a huge problem because early treatment is the key to making sure that mental health problems don’t get worse.
As a country, we should be taking care of the most vulnerable people in our society, but at the moment, we just aren’t doing that.