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Good Health!

June 4, 2008

Alcohol use is in the local news again – for positive and negative reasons. The Hastings Beer Festival has been saved as we learn that there are more arrests of drunken disorderly women year on year. There is no link between the stories!

As a social worker in our area’s mental health Crisis and Home Treatment Team, I work with people with alcohol and substance misuse problems a great deal.

These particular problems have a complex relationship with mental health difficulties – drugs and alcohol are often used as a way of alleviating symptoms, or at times, they can be the cause of deteriorating mental health.

Of course mental health difficulties and substance misuse problems (as well as poor housing) are linked to social deprivation, exclusion and poverty, so it should not surprise us that there are problems to be faced by local individuals and families.

This is to say nothing of the issues and antics that holidaymakers can bring with them to our area – welcome as they are.

Over the last few months I have been working alongside a social worker who has years of experience of mental health care in our part of East Sussex. One of his burning passions is to ensure that we provide a quality service for people who are suffering with alcoholism and homelessness.

One of the gaps that he has rightly identified in service provision locally is a temporary place for homeless men and women with alcohol use problems to go to live in order to receive support and beat their illness. Local services, in his view, approach alcoholism in a highly medicalised way, with no alternative available based on the social model of disability.

Of course there are also many other needy client groups for whom we have precious little accommodation to offer in this area. It is shocking how many young families I come across in the course of my daily work that are having difficulty accessing the right kind of accommodation. And it makes me sick that, when accommodation is located in the private sector (paid for by Housing Benefit), agencies are coining it by charging outrageous rents to the local authority, without any kind of benchmark for quality control.

But the case for decent wet hostel facilities is simple and compelling on a number of levels. There is not only the human impetus to help people that are homeless and ill, but there are potential outcomes in respect of public order, benefit receipts, NHS bills, the list goes on.

What is fundamental to this kind of argument is to have local and national politicians who have the political will to invest to save.

This notion of investing to save seems alien in a political world that is predicated on quick fixes, flashy headlines and with an outlook skewed by the date of the next election.

Some people say that Liberal Democrats have the luxury of thinking in sensible ways about social policy because they are in no danger of getting into power.

I say, more fool those who elect into power politicians whose policies they cannot see, and whose vision (and political philosophy) is no wider, or deeper, than their next electoral test.


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