by Camila Batmanghelidjh
Founder and Director, Kids Company
I watched a young man biting his arm who believed that, as a bird, he was pulling out feathers. There was no parent to care for him; for a long time he had coped alone. Let me evidence the invisibility of children like him who, at best, survive on leftovers of other people’s care and, at worst, shut down hope to avoid disappointment.
Kids Company supports 17,000 children and young people with psychosocial care. Recently, our work with 668 disadvantaged 16- to 23-year-olds highlighted dark statistics.
Just under 560 were not registered or connected with a GP; 411 required mental health interventions; 87% had experienced multiple trauma; 394 required housing; 365 needed sexual health interventions; 436 had to be registered with a dentist; 363 required an optician’s assessment.
These are citizens of the underbelly whose needs remain invisible and unmet. Young people have little faith in civil society’s ability to reach out to them. As one put it: “The government hates us.”
Young people believe this because the narrative emanating from politicians is often unwittingly derogatory. Tuition fees have increased, the EMA grant has been stopped, housing benefits have been cut. No-one will rent a room to a young man for fear that he may trash their house, and yet he cannot live in his own flat or bedsit, because £70 a week is the maximum allowance for his rent.
During the  summer riots the TV cameras didn’t follow all those children who stole food. Instead they focused on those who took plasma TVs and trainers. Forty-two per cent of the young people brought before the courts were in receipt of free school meals. But we are too frightened to see need. Instead, we see greed.
So what brought these desperate young people to such extremes of rage? Don’t go looking for big answers. The truth resides somewhere smaller: in that insidious space where human dignity is systematically eroded. The kids describe it as “stress”: the door of possibility slamming in their faces.
They’re told to have aspirations, but noone will pay their college fees. They’re told to get fit, but no-one will give them money for the gym. They’re told to eat well, but they have no more than £10 a week to buy food while on benefits. They’re told to see their doctors but don’t have enough phone credit or patience for the booking queue.
With 1.1 million children and young people having mental health difficulties in the UK, you’d be forgiven for thinking we were organising a nationwide famine in therapeutic support. Children need an integrated approach to wellbeing, taking into account their range of psychosocial needs in the context of sustained care relationships – not this lucky-dipping for healthcare.
Proximity would yield mutual solutions – healing the wounds of the banned age with a bandage. Bandages support, hold and promote self-recovery. If a piece of cloth can do it, why can’t we?
This article first appeared in the December issue of Public Health Today, FPH’s quarterly magazine.