Editor's Blog

Resilience in Bradford

Last week, I listened to a Woman’s Hour interview with the newly elected MP for Bradford West, Naseem Shah. I was deeply moved by her un-self pitying account of a terrible childhood which included being abandoned by her father, seeing her mother sent to prison for poisoning her abusive partner, herself being sent to Pakistan to undergo an arranged marriage at 15 years old, and finally  returning to the UK to work in mental health, disability and NHS commissioning.

Hers is certainly a tale of survival – against overwhelming odds. Her interview raised two issues for me that, I believe, are critical for the Early Intervention agenda.

The first is about resilience. Eminent academics in the UK, Europe and the United States have long been fascinated by resilience. Why is it that some people who were victims of appalling circumstances in their childhood rise above all that they have suffered and go on to be part of ‘normal’, well-functioning families and  even make a huge contribution to their community and society? What is it about these people that enables them to avoid the fate of others who were seriously abused as children, which is to become damaged adults, vulnerable to mental health problems, to substance misuse, criminality and re-creating the circumstances of their unhappy childhoods inside their own families?  What is it that makes the difference? Is it something about the successful survivor’s genes? Is it to do with their having enjoyed at least one strong, nurturing relationship (parent, sibling, relative, teacher, coach) when they were a child? Is it a sense of injustice that drives them to become activists so that others won’t have to go through what they did?

These are truly important questions in terms of the Early Intervention agenda. What is it that makes the difference? If we could only define it and capture it, we could focus the Early Intervention to protect all our children.

The second thing which struck me about Naseems’ interview was her account of poverty in Bradford. I am absolutely convinced that offering support and education to mothers and fathers-to-be and new parents across the transition to parenthood is helpful, and will make a difference to their lives (whether they are rich, poor or in the middle). However, I am also totally convinced that impoverished parents have to work harder to be the mum or dad they want to be whilst battling to keep the family fed, clothed, warm and at school. Therefore, an anti-poverty agenda has to be part of the Early Intervention agenda. Rumours (and I know they are no more than that) that child benefit might be axed at some point in the future fill me with concern. Child benefit goes directly to mothers (in most cases), providing many women with the only income that they themselves have control over. I’ve known poor women who religiously save £3/week from their child benefit into a savings account for their child so that he or she will have a little nest egg in later years; women who divide their child benefit into pots for shoes and school outings, and women who use their child benefit for a small treat for themselves –to provide a break in the daily tedium of poverty.

I would hate to see it disappear.



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