‘Why do you bother?’
A man asked me this at the end of a meeting. I had said that I commission services to help people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol break the habit. ‘Why do you bother?’ was more of an exasperated comment than a question. He could see no good reason for doing anything for people who, in his view, simply lacked the will to change their way of life and, in one way or another, sponged off the rest of us.
So why do we bother?
The first response has to be a human or humane one. This is a fellow human being who, for whatever reason, is now in the grip of a powerful addiction and as a result is throwing their life away. We want to help them make something of themselves and their lives.
But when that falls on deaf ears and an unmoved heart, I talk about the cost of not helping. In every town and city across South Yorkshire there will be a few people like this who are well known to the police and other agencies. They call them ‘prolific offenders’ because, in order to fund their addiction, they will be involved in some form of criminality, repeatedly.
Let me briefly set out the costs to all of us of the prolific offender. (We have been looking at a few cases.)
Person A is a drug user. She shop lifts to fund her habit. She has been doing this since childhood. Fining her is a waste of time because she immediately shoplifts again in order to pay the fine. In 2019 she committed 44 recorded offences and spent time in prison.
In that year she cost the South Yorkshire tax payers about £132,000 in quantifiable costs. These included benefits, the cost of courts, custody (about 20% of the total), probation and police, as well as costs to businesses trying to keep themselves secure. She is not without qualifications, but her drug problem means she doesn’t hold jobs down. The costs are even higher if you factor in her children who, when young, had to be cared for. Over a life time of offending this totals to something like £2.3m.
So in answer to the question, ‘Why bother?’, one answer is, ‘Because over the next five years, if we can get this person off drugs and into steady work, we will save £662,000 for the public purse.’ This is why I fund programmes to help people break these habits of substance abuse.
And we have a happier human being.
Modern Slavery and the Clewer Initiative
We all know that slavery was not abolished in the nineteenth century. It simply took new forms and became less visible. We meet the modern slave unknowingly all the time. Many, though by no means all, are from overseas, trafficked here by organised gangs.
I came across one when I went with police as they broke into a house in Rotherham where cannabis was being cultivated. The ‘gardener’ had been brought from North Africa by organised criminals. He had no English and travelled on a fake passport and other forged documents. He spent all day and every day watering the plants and living in squalid conditions in the kitchen. Every other room was full of plants. As far as the gang was concerned, he was expendable.
I don’t know what hold the gang had over him. Perhaps he was in debt to them. Perhaps they threatened harm to his African family. He was undoubtedly breaking the law. But he was also a victim, living the most wretched of lives. Others are brought to this country to be domestic servants or for sexual purposes or to eke out their days in warehouses, nail bars, factories, farms and car washes. We pass them in the street but they are hidden in plain sight.
Some years ago I was the vice principal of an Oxford theological college where Anglican clergy were trained. Recently a group of nuns re-located to the college, selling their house in Clewer, near Windsor Castle. Their order had been founded in the nineteenth century to help women leave lives as prostitutes where they had lost all autonomy and dignity. The sisters wanted the proceeds from the sale of their property – over £1m – to be used for some similar purpose today – and modern forms of slavery seemed an obvious situation to address.
So the Clewer Initiative was launched and Sheffield Diocese is one of the areas taking it forward. I was pleased to be at the local launch in the cathedral a year or two ago. The Clewer Initiative seeks to raise awareness of modern slavery and support projects that will help people escape safely from miserable lives.
But we all recognise that the shackles that bind the modern slave are not visible and not so easy to break apart.
Antislavery Day is kept on 18 October.
For the Clewer Initiative see: https://www.theclewerinitiative.org/
It is clear from the Prime Minister’s sombre announcement on 12 October that attempts to bring down the rate of infection across the country have so far failed. We brace ourselves, therefore, for further restrictions under the new three tier system.
Individuals are becoming worried and communities more tense as the government seeks to balance lives and livelihoods. The police are rightly asked to enforce the law as it changes. Enforcing these restrictions is not something police officers will enjoy doing any more than we enjoy having our social lives and our liberties curtailed. But if we are to get through this, we know it has to be done.
What we cannot afford to happen is for a rift to open up between police and public because of it.
I hope you are staying safe and well.