This is our truth, tell us yours
Jemima wrote well, recently, about the importance of addressing needs in their order of priority. In a comment on another blog Jem said
“needs must be met first, and anyone who fails to understand the basics of Maslow is turning therapy into a magic wand rather than the process of self discovery it is. It seems to be related to the idea that “something must be done” as you mentioned and also the idea of the therapist as someone who “makes things better” “
Thinking about what Jem had said made me ponder on the realities of life in a world where those in power do not believe they have to address Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It’s awhile since I have had the experience of being unemployed, but I remember well how hard it was to arrange my priorities each week; pay the bills, keep a roof over my head and clothes on my back, and feed myself. The complexities of finding a job came after all those basic needs, and had to.
In the 20 odd years since I was last unemployed it’s become harder for the unemployed. The demands of the state that claimants prove they are genuinely seeking work have become more and more complex. One of the things I know with some certainty is that not everyone who is unemployed is going to be an expert at making decisions. When I regularly recruited middle managers for the organization I worked for we used to use the in-tray test as part of the selection process; individuals would be given an in-tray with six tasks in it, and would be asked to prioritize them, and explain their reasoning. Life on out of work benefits in the UK today is a permanent in-tray test, and, like some of the people who used to apply for jobs with my former employers, some of them will fail the test. Sanctioning them for failing isn’t a way of teaching them to make better decisions – the primary effect is the same as making them do the same test again, but with less time and even less resources.
Jem was writing about therapy, and the abuses of therapy by those who lack a sense of proportion, but it seems to me that the bigger point is clear and obvious. People who don’t have enough to eat or a place to live aren’t going to prosper in a job search – getting them enough to eat and a place to live should be the first priority. Similarly in the examples Jem used in her comment, of the people going through turbulent lives to whom therapy might seem to be an irrelevance, the answer probably isn’t to discard therapy, but to take an holistic approach. Is that really such a complex idea, the notion that people with too little to eat or insecure housing might be more likely to get well, or get a job, if they’re well fed and well housed?