Complex Needs to Disordered Personalities:

Political Discourses and Practice Responses

Date: 17th January 2017
Venue: The Foundry, Vauxhall, London SE11

 Political and practice-based discourses in England and Wales have increasingly recognised groups of people said to have ‘complex needs’ and who face ‘multiple exclusions’ or ‘multiple disadvantages’. Their difficulties are often characterised by long term unemployment, drug problems, and a range of mental health problems that include personality disorder and histories of trauma.

The appearance of such ideas in political and practice-based discourse has emerged alongside, and arguably coalesced with, alternative discourses around responsibilisation, criminalisation, and the immorality of worklessness. These strands of political discourse have suggested that there are individuals who are not ‘strivers’, nor are they are part of ‘hard working families’. Instead their homelessness, their lack of employment and their dependence on welfare has led to labels as ‘shirkers’, or even ‘scroungers’.

Such punitive language has perhaps, for example, encouraged the use of ‘Public Space Protection Orders’ to fine people who sleep rough or who ’beg’ for money – a move criticised by homeless charities for punishing the poor while ignoring the ‘complex needs’ faced by this group of people.

Meanwhile, the UK government’s intention to encourage the availability of psychological treatment services within job centres (announced, for example, in the 2015 budget) was heavily criticised as an inappropriate attempt to reconstruct the social problems of unemployment and exclusion as issues of ‘disordered minds’ that were in need of treatment. The ‘troubled families’ initiative has struggled to evidence its impact.

The seminar explored the psychosocial dynamics that surround policies and practices that are directed at those facing ‘complex needs’.



Chris Scanlon Overview and Introduction

Chris provided an overview of the complexity of the dynamic between those who have often experienced traumatic

Pippa Hockton (Street talk) Not Angry, Hurting

Pippa talked about her experiences of working therapeutically with women who involved in street based prostitution.


Alastair Roy (University of Central Lancashire Recovery as Cruel Optimism: Exploring Recent responses to substance misuse through policy, practice and lived experience.

Ali traced the evolution of initiatives aimed at those with drug dependency, and in particular the powerful theme of ‘recovery’. Some of the conflict over this notion, in relation to those who often carry such complex histories and needs is explored.


Rachael Dobson (Kingston University) Regulatory Interventions in Practice:towards a psychosocial analysis.

Rachael reported on her own work that has looked at the experiences of those who are involved with the provision of interventions, in statutory and voluntary sectors.


Chris Parker (Northumbria University) Precarious Transitions

Chris presented findings from his own research on the effectiveness of the use of the ‘Housing First’ initiative in Newcastle with a range of people who could be regarded as being on a spectrum of multiple needs.  Chris found that the scheme appeared to be less successful with those with a wider range of long-standing needs. 


Sarah Anderson (University of Glasgow) Bearing witness to desistance- trauma and offending in the lives of people facing complex needs

Sarah provided an account of her own original work that has sought to understand more about the perspective of those who have come to be seen as having ‘complex needs’ but also who are understood to have made positive changes in their lives (particularly in regards to offending).


Sarah Johnsen (Herriot Watt)  Extending hospitality or killing with kindness?

Sarah provided a brief history of recent policy initiatives in relation to street homelessness and the various, often conflicting forces and discourses that collide in this area. Four normative stances are proposed – contractual, paternalistic, utilitarian,and social justice. Each have different justifications and oppositions – that can overlap, interact as well directly conflict. Explicit awareness of these various stances might help provide a better framework for reaching constructive solutions in this area that is so mired in conflict and ambivalence.

Paul Anders (Policy Manager, Revolving Doors) Developing a place-based approach to health inequalities faced by those in contact with the CJS. Jan 2017

Provided a brief overview of the work of ‘Revolving Doors’ who aim to promote change in the delivery of services that surround those many individuals who complex needs propel them in and out of the criminal justice system.

Alan Kilmister (Forum Member, ‘Revolving Doors)

Alan talked about his own experiences of homelessness and the significance of the support he received in finding the route out of the difficulties. The work he has been involved in ‘Revolving Doors’ has been particularly helpful.


Organised by
Dr David W Jones (University of East London)
Dr Chris Scanlon 
Professor David Gadd (University of Manchester)