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BLOGS | 21st December 2017

Whether in your own home, for your friends or in your community is there anything more festive than trying to do good things for others? Perhaps it’s volunteering time or, as I experience in my role, those who constantly strive to make changes for people who won’t experience life fairly, fuelled by a sense of social justice.

In October this year, local authority Community Planning Partnerships (CPPs) released their Local Outcome Improvement Plans (LOIPs), as required under the new Community Empowerment Act 2015. These plans must demonstrate a clear, evidence-based, robust and strong understanding of local needs, circumstances and aspirations. The Act also places a duty on CPPs to engage with local community bodies, and to create plans for localities or neighbourhoods experiencing inequalities, and address this in a targeted and effective way.

There are lots of these locality or neighbourhood plans in Scotland. I was afforded the opportunity to contribute my views on those covering Fife, the area I live in. I welcomed this because, as my mum always says, ‘if you don’t engage, you can’t complain.’ However, what interested me most about this new way of working from a justice perspective was the definition of ‘locality’ given by the Scottish Government in the Act:

‘The CPP should also fulfil this duty for those communities which are not neighbourhoods, where they experience disadvantage on outcomes. This includes communities of interest, (e.g. young people leaving care; vulnerable adults; those with protected characteristics such as disabled people; or people from black and minority ethnic communities.) and specific households facing particular disadvantage’.

Across the community justice landscape we work with communities experiencing ‘disadvantage on outcomes’ every day. Their experience of inequality is in itself unequal, because of the additional needs and circumstances they encounter:

  • Mental health needs akin to those found within a psychiatric unit.
  • 21% in treatment for drug misuse.
  • One in ten people having difficulties with reading, writing and numbers.
  • 61% having children of their own, and 16% having experience of being in care at the age of 16 years old.
  • 40% drinking alcohol aged 12 or under for the first time.
  • 42% suspended from school.
  • 80% witnessing violence in their neighbourhoods.
  • 14% experiencing physical abuse, 10% experiencing sexual abuse, 36% suffering a head injury and 38% experiencing something which scarred them so much it stayed with them for years.
  • 90% experiencing the death of a family member and 77% experiencing a traumatic bereavement.
  • 42% with parents who had been to prison.
  • 18% witnessing physical harm between their parents.

This is our ‘community of interest’. If this is the make-up of that community – a staggering picture of vulnerability – could we apply a locality plan to address the needs of this group? To consider this another way; could we apply a community plan to the justice places in which we bring these people together? Why don’t we?

Try to imagine if the prison within your local area wasn’t a gated community (how grand). If the people residing there were simply another neighbourhood in your town or city, with which you had regular interactions.

If this community existed, as the neighbourhoods we more readily recognise do, there would be a demand from the public, the media and elected officials to address these needs and a concentrated level of resource directed across partner services to meeting them. People from this community would be prioritised for support, they would have services on their doorsteps and we would take a preventative approach to working with their children and families as a priority – because we know the generational impact such experience of inequality can have.

But right now, we don’t. Don’t get me wrong, there is a huge amount of excellent work happening for people with lived experience and their families, but it is often hidden and does not generate the same media and public attention that tackling inequalities for other groups can receive.

Is this fair because people in our justice places have offended against communities?

That is one view, but we know if we don’t address these needs there will be more offending, and we also know we cannot condemn their children to the same multiple and complex disadvantage.

I know this might appear controversial but it’s really just a blog about good planning for a local community that needs a high level of targeted support to change their trajectory. You are perhaps also thinking that our justice places are full of people from lots of local authority areas and that they do not ‘belong’ in one area’s locality plan, but I feel that is contradictory to what the Act suggests in its definition of ‘community.’

The take home message here is if you can’t plan around these places and face your communities and services towards them then you must reach in, and take your own people back with a care package that improves wellbeing, one person at a time. Be the first locality authority that recognises the inequality of inequality, and action reintegration as a priority within your locality plans.