More evidence of how small test budgets can work for people in criminal justice

We’ve been working with Diversity Matters to help men involved with criminal justice to identify what they need to move on with their lives and how having a small test budget can make a difference. Here are some of their stories:

James lives in supported accommodation run by Crossreach in the east end of Glasgow. At the moment, he is looking forward to moving into his own home once permanent housing becomes available. James has always been passionate about music so he decided to spend his £200 on an electric guitar. He feels that being able to write songs and perform them for people helps him share how he is feeling and has improved his mental health. It’s also been a good way to make new friends and connections, by meeting people who share his passion for music and going out to gigs. Having the extra money to buy the guitar has opened up a new world for James and a way for him to express his talent!

Simon has serious mental health issues and suffers from anxiety. He has been living in a new area where he didn’t know anyone and felt very isolated. He is separated from his ex-partner and young son although he keeps in touch with his son regularly and sees him as often as he can.

His housing situation wasn’t great and was causing him to feel very low. For example he didn’t know the local area and had no friends or family nearby. In addition, his flat had only basic facilities (i.e. a single cooker) with bare floorboards so it didn’t feel like a warm and welcoming space. He decided to spend his money on a carpet, which would mean his son could come and stay over. Having the carpet has made a big difference not just to Simon, but to his relationship with his son.

He said “I am so grateful, I spoke to my son last night and he is so happy I got the carpet and he is able to come see me next month when he gets off school. I am so happy too, I wasn’t feeling too great the past few months but everything is looking brighter for me, I have been a lot more content”.

Liam is 20 and had previous convictions after selling on stolen goods to get money for bus fares. With help from his support worker at HMP Low Moss Prisoner Support Pathway Team, he signed up for a free gym membership. He used his £200 to buy weights and equipment, which has led to him getting more into fitness. This has given him a new, healthier focus and has led to him changing his diet and becoming interested in learning to become a chef. It has been really good for him to have something positive to work towards and his own equipment to do things at home too. While he is currently sofa surfing between his parents’ houses, he is actively working towards obtaining his own tenancy with the help of his support worker.

What a difference a small budget makes …

We’ve been meeting with women from the 218 service in Glasgow to hear how having a relatively small amount of money (i.e. a test budget) can help people move forward with their lives. Here are their stories:

Anne is a woman in her fifties with two grown up daughters and several grandchildren. She has convictions for offences committed while under the influence of alcohol. Her younger daughter’s partner is violent and Anne has to avoid him (and her daughter) for fear of being arrested again for confronting him. Her daughter is about to enter the residential unit at Glasgow’s Drug Crisis Centre to deal with her heroin addiction. As a result, Anne’s thirteen year old grandson Stephen will be coming to live with her shortly.

Anne is hoping to move into a two bedroom house by Christmas with Stephen who has experienced bullying at school because of his mother’s drugs issues. However, he is doing well academically. She is also working with other agencies including Lifelinks which offers counselling, group work and stress reduction techniques and Families Addiction Support Service which supports families affected by drugs and alcohol. In particular, she has found cognitive behavioural therapy sessions offered at 218 to be beneficial in helping her process her anger in less harmful ways.

Anne will use her test budget to buy new bedroom furniture for her grandson’s room.  It will be a new start for her and for her grandson. She says that she doesn’t want to make the same mistakes that she made with her daughters and is determined to provide a stable, secure home life for her grandson.

Lisa is a young woman in her twenties with depression and anxiety who uses alcohol to help her cope with the psychological effects of a traumatic event in her past. She finds that exercise helps her to feel better mentally and physically. Initially she had thought about using her test budget for a gym membership but has now decided to get her teeth whitened and has agreed a payment plan with her dentist. At present, she feels that she is too embarrassed to smile and is uncomfortable talking to people in new social situations. In the past she would spend days in bed or drinking. Recently, her mother has noticed that she is taking better care of herself and is trying new activities and groups. Lisa has also said that feeling better about her teeth and appearance will motivate her to give up smoking, be more healthy and to take up volunteering opportunities.

Why having a good life matters

Recently, we spent time with women from the Tomorrow’s Women service in Glasgow looking at what MAKES a good life. Some of the things that people said were important to them were: having a home; having people to love who love you back; feeling able to be with people and work with them without having to be nasty to get what you want; having pets; having a job for independence, money and security and being healthy.

We also looked at what HELPS to make a good life and people suggested: having a routine; getting enough sleep; maintaining focus; eating healthy food; making a home comfortable and safe; feeling able to talk to people and resolve conflicts in positive ways; taking regular exercise and having goals.

When we asked people WHY having a good life mattered they said:

“For security and feeling more stable”.

“Your happiness affects the people who rely on you”.

“Being motivated means you’re more likely to stick to good habits”.

“It’s about making the most of having a second chance”.

“We deserve it like everyone else”.