A generation of young people may be binge drinking their lives away, oblivious to the dangers of social exclusion and homelessness that could result from their excessive behaviour. Thinking ‘it will never happen to me’, some young drinkers are falling into a cycle of severe alcohol dependency without realising the long-term harm they are doing to themselves, their families and to those around them.
The warning comes in a report from the Salvation Army. The Seeds of Exclusion 2009, published today on the 144th birthday (2 July) of The Salvation Army, is based on on-going research into the causes and outcomes of social exclusion and homelessness.
The research includes detailed and intensive analysis of interviews with nearly 1,000 people living in Salvation Army resettlement centres and hostels, by clinical psychologists, which results in new findings about the underlying causes of homelessness and social exclusion.
The Seeds of Exclusion 2009 builds on research first published by The Salvation Army in July last year, which revealed a lack of positive and supportive relationships with family or friends amongst respondents who are homeless and socially excluded. The Seeds of Exclusion 2009 extends the sample size of the research and includes analysis by age and by region.
The research, produced with the University of Kent and CardiffUniversity and involving a series of clinical assessments of 967 homeless adults using Salvation Army hostels and day centres around the UK and Ireland, reveals particularly alarming results for 18-25 year-olds than for any other age group.
The Salvation Army is concerned for a new generation of young homeless adults who appear to be self-medicating with drugs and alcohol in response to the environment, culture and society around them.
Relationship breakdown and the lack of supportive relationships are cited as the main reasons for homelessness amongst the respondents (43%). However, the research also reveals that substance abuse and mental health needs play a bigger role in drawing people into homelessness and social exclusion than those interviewed are prepared to recognise.
The Seeds of Exclusion 2009 also reveals regional variations on the underlying reasons for social exclusion and homelessness. In London, the survey found that respondents presented a different set of characteristics from the rest of the regions profiled, which could be important in deciding whether resources are being targeted effectively and appropriately outside the capital.
Introducing The Seeds of Exclusion 2009, Lieut-Colonel Ian Barr, Director of Programme for The Salvation Army in the UK and Ireland, said: “The Seeds of Exclusion 2009 report reveals alarming trends in the lives of people who turn to The Salvation Army looking for a home or a community in which to belong. In our centres, we see too many victims of an excessive drinking and drug culture that is not only endangering personal health, but damages relationships, education and employment prospects, and leads and keeps people amongst the most socially excluded in our society.
“Above all, The Seeds of Exclusion 2009 reveals the importance of positive relationships and strong support networks in a person’s life, and ensuring that disadvantaged people are given respect and access to the practical, social and spiritual support they need to realise their God-given potential and recover their personal dignity. It also emphasises the importance of intervention, to help people at all levels, both those at the top of the cliff as well as reaching out to those at the bottom of the cliff. These core principles, of reaching out to people not only when they are in desperate need but also intervening to care for people to help them avoid falling into need, have been part of The Salvation Army’s DNA since 1865, which is why we’re launching the report on our birthday.”
Key results in The Seeds of Exclusion 2009 report include:
· Those interviewed cited current and past relationship problems as the main reason for their homelessness (43%) and many had difficult experiences as they were growing up.
· Almost all (94%) 18-25 year-olds felt they were neglected in childhood, compared to just under a third (30%) of the total sample and less than a quarter (23%) of respondents aged 56 years and over.
· More than two thirds of the 18-25 age group were raised in non-traditional families (73%) compared to a third (33%) in the 45–55 age group.
· Those who had poor relationships with their parents during childhood (31% with their mother, or 45% with their father) were likely to have been homeless as children. Just under half (45%) of the 18-25 age group were homeless at some point in their childhood. This figure falls with each successive age group.
· Disruptive childhoods and poor relationships with parents in early life, including abuse from family and friends, were linked with higher levels of alcohol and drug dependency.
· Alcohol abuse was high across all age groups (59% of the sample reported an addiction) while respondents aged 18-25 years had the highest alcohol dependency (66%) but were the least likely to admit they had a drinking problem (14%). Of all
respondents with a dependency, around a quarter (26%) would drink more than four times a week and a third (34%) consumed 10 or more drinks on the days they were drinking.
· Alcohol dependency was highest among respondents in Belfast (74%) and Wales (71%), which was more than double the amount in London (30%).
· About one fifth (21%) of all respondents in The Seeds of Exclusion 2009 linked their homelessness to drug misuse, and a smaller number to problem drinking (16%). However, clinical assessment showed that 80% had drug and/or alcohol misuse
problems, though only a quarter were using support services for their addiction. More than half of respondents aged from 18 to 45 years had a drug dependency and this peaked in the 26-35 age-group, at 67%.
· When asked, only 10% of respondents reported mental health issues, whereas 59% screened for anxiety related symptoms and 36% had attempted suicide at least once. Women (53%) were more likely to attempt suicide than men (34%). Levels of attempted suicide in Wales, Belfast, North WestEngland and Scotland and Dublin were three times higher (approximately 40%) than in London.
· Almost three-quarters of respondents (74%) had multiple psychological problems, such as a post traumatic stress, a high suicide risk, and drug and alcohol dependency, and this was highest in the 18-25 age group (51%) and lowest (13%) in the 56+ age group.
· Of those with mental health problems or personality disorders less than a quarter (24%) were receiving medication and less than 15% considered they were receiving appropriate medical care.
Only a small number of respondents (8%) reported unemployment as a reason for their homelessness, yet 96% were unemployed. Financial issues were more frequently cited as a contributing factor in London (38%) than elsewhere in the UK or Ireland (12% in Belfast). Of those who did refer to financial problems, the majority of respondents were in the 46-55 age group (36%).
Lieut-Colonel Ian Barr said: “This new report, with its detailed and clinical research methods, really does present new findings about why people become socially excluded. With the UK in the midst of recession, we present the results to encourage all those designing, delivering and funding social exclusion services and programmes to ensure resources are used as effectively as possible.
“As one of the largest providers of social and community welfare in the UK, The Salvation Army has never been just about providing a roof over someone’s head or about hand-outs. We’ve always believed the best way to help people, whatever their
background or situation, is to enable them to help themselves by restoring a person’s dignity and sense of self-worth. So, our hostels are increasingly becoming places of change, with housing and support augmented by employment training through social enterprise. We also commit to do even more to support children and families, through our existing spiritual and social programmes.”
To download a copy of The Seeds of Exclusion 2009, see: www.salvationarmy.org.uk/seeds
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