Published: 19th Jun 2014

Arguments about language in the field of social care can often be dismissed as academic indulgence that we can ill afford when people’s lives are at stake. But language can really matter. It not only reveals our assumptions and prejudices, it actively shapes and re-enforces them. And this in turn can affect people’s lives. Increasingly I struggle with the way ‘complex needs’ has become the standard descriptor for combinations of homelessness, debt, violence, mental illness and drug use. ‘Needs’ seems like a good plain English word but my concern is that it carries the strong implication that the harm experienced is exclusively inherent in the person and not in wider structural inequality. Needs can be ‘met’ or ‘addressed’ by bureaucratised systems, whereas structural inequalities require us all to change or give ground. ‘Complex’ is similarly troublesome. Whose complexity is this? The idea that needs or lives might be simple seems to … (To read the full article, subscribe below)