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London leader writes newspaper column about You First visit

Florence's Southwark News column

As the Assembly Member for Lambeth and Southwark my job is to hold the Mayor of London to account and champion the needs of my constituents.

A lot of this work involves being at City Hall to sit on committees or speak at Mayor’s Question Time. I’m lucky that City Hall falls within my constituency, but I love nothing more than getting out and about to meet the amazing people and organisations that make Southwark what it is.

I recently visited Resolving Chaos, an ambitious organisation that works with people who have multiple needs including mental health problems, homelessness, and substance misuse. Last year they developed the ‘Multiple needs manifesto’ ahead of the Mayoral and London Assembly elections. This highlighted that too often people with complex issues move from one service to another in a costly and unhealthy cycle, and recognised that when the right support services work in partnership the quality of life of people with multiple needs – and the outcomes for communities – can be drastically improved.

One of the projects Resolving Chaos runs is called You First. Funded by a Big Lottery grant, it works in partnership with local councils, the NHS, and charities to identify and support high cost service users who experience poor outcomes.

A crucial element of the programme is that each person receives an individual budget to choose to spend on what they need to improve their lives. This can cover immediate needs such as helping them get back on track with food, travel and housing, or it could cover services that will assist their longer-term journey to independence.

It was frustrating but heartening to hear from people in difficult situations who had fallen through the gaps between services. I met a man called Dean who spoke about his experience of being admitted at the Maudsley Hospital on three separate occasions, and on his run-ins with the police and criminal justice system. With help and support from the project, he is now helping ex-offenders and ex-gang members at the St Giles Trust in Camberwell.

The programme has shown it is possible to improve lives and help people get their independence back, and all whilst reducing the amount of public money being spent. This is especially important against a backdrop of government cuts which have pushed social care and mental health services into crisis.

We still have a long way to go when it comes to mental health and multiple needs. One of the first actions we can take together is to mark Time to Talk Day, which takes place next week. It’s a day that brings the nation together to get talking and break the silence: mental health problems affect one in four of us yet people are still afraid to talk about it. For people with mental health problems not being able to talk about it can be one of the worst parts of the illness. So by getting people talking about mental health we can break down stereotypes, improve relationships, aid recovery and take the stigma out of something that affects us all.