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When every day is multiple disadvantage day

As part of our blog series marking Multiple Disadvantage Day and Co-Production Week, our Peer Research Co-Production Worker Kate Haddow explores some of the meaning behind the term 'multiple disadvantage.'

When every day is multiple disadvantage day
By Kate Haddow, Peer Research Co-Production Worker, FLNG

Until very recently, I had not heard of the term Multiple Disadvantage Day and when I did, I scrunched my face up, confused about its meaning and purpose, thinking why do we need a dedicated day? Especially when, for some, every day is a battle with disadvantage.

I didn’t for one moment think it was a celebration of multiple disadvantage as there is nothing to celebrate around that. From that ruling out by me, I knew it would be about raising awareness that people face multiple intersecting issues that place them on an unequal footing in society, while others are less constrained and able to live their best life so to speak.  But what exactly do we mean by multiple disadvantage then?

Many organisations such as charities have already defined multiple disadvantage as the following: where people face multiple and intersecting inequalities such as domestic violence, substance misuse, homelessness and mental ill health to name only a select few, the list goes on.

I started to wonder how people experiencing these intersecting issues felt about being labelled or put into the category of ‘experiencing multiple disadvantage’ and how do they feel about the words ‘multiple disadvantage’ and what it means to them.  Their thoughts were interesting and there was a consensus forming that the term ‘multiple disadvantage’ did not describe them, how they felt or the situations they found themselves in.

The term ‘multiple disadvantage’ puts the person at the centre, which can sound very positive, but can make it seem like that person is a victim or even make it sound like there is something wrong with them, as if to say why do they keep finding themselves in situations of multiple disadvantage? Why do they face so many complex situations, when really should we be focusing on the complex situations like mental health, homelessness and substance misuse? It makes you question how important and powerful language is and how things are phrased can really shape people’s outlook on an issue or topic.

I am not trying to start a war on language or to convey the expectations of a snowflake millennial. I suppose what I am trying to question is, is it helpful to divide people into a category that can be quite decisive and invoke feelings of shame and stigma, something they deal with on a daily basis?  Would it not be better to describe multiple disadvantage as ‘complex and diverse situations’ as one person with lived experience put it to me, conveying people as survivors who continue to battle daily with the most challenging circumstances you can face.