Knowledge action inquiry

What is severe and multiple disadvantage?

For the last six years, we have funded and worked with organisations mainly concerned with issues of homelessness, substance misuse, domestic abuse, contact with the criminal justice system and mental ill health and the intersections between these problems in people’s lives.

We coined the term severe and multiple disadvantage in order to make such connections visible. It is generally used to refer to clusters of problems that appear together in the lives of some people facing disadvantage.

We have supported research intended to increase our understanding of this.

Our 2015 report Hard Edges illustrated the significant overlaps between people using homelessness, substance misuse and offender services. It also found that this combination of service use is most common for poor white men in areas of economic decline.

Other work we have commissioned suggests there are different patterns of severe disadvantage. For women, sexual and domestic abuse and the impacts of these on mental health appear to be a common gateway to homelessness, drug use and prostitution/sexual exploitation. For some ethnic minority people the disproportionate responses of criminal justice and mental health services often compound any existing disadvantages in their lives.

In all cases, there seem to be strong relationships with wider social inequalities.

What now?

To date the concept of severe and multiple disadvantage has helped emphasise the interlocking nature of different issues in the lives of people facing disadvantage.

However, we realise it also a potentially stigmatising label.

We are now interested in what it means to increase knowledge in this field without stigmatising and ‘othering’ people and what the relationship of this is to systemic change.

Our work

Drawing on the work of our partner organisations and others, we are exploring how Lankelly Chase can take action here.

We are guided by the System Behaviours expressed in our Approach to Change and so we are inquiring into ways to build knowledge which recognise the complexity of people’s lives, promote equality of voice, recognise people’s strengths and see us all as part of an interconnected human whole.

We will be sharing our learning here.

Would you like to join a conversation about this? Contact Cathy.