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Docking Benefits and Blaming the Poor

I know I covered this more generally on Monday in my rant about ‘benefits’ but it’s worth coming back to with the proposals explained in the Guardian

Magistrates and crown court judges could be asked to dock benefits from convicted criminals under preliminary proposals being drawn up by the government in response to the riots, the Guardian can reveal.

Ministers are looking hard at how benefits, or tax credits, could be taken away to show criminals that privileges provided by the state can be temporarily withdrawn.

Under the proposals anyone convicted of a crime could be punished once rather than potentially facing separate fines – first by a magistrates court and then a benefit office. By giving powers to the courts to strip benefits, the Department of Work and Pensions would not be required to intervene in the criminal justice system.

Yesterday, a little tardy, I know, I listened to the podcast of Pienaar’s Politics which I tend to really enjoy and I did except for the presence of Kelvin McKenzie and an odious interview with Iain Duncan-Smith in which he discussed this.

(Iain Duncan-Smith who, incidently, laughingly claimed at his constituency of Chingford and Woodford Green was ‘inner city’. Really? Waltham Forest is inner city? Really? Have I missed something? Anyway, back to the programme).

Let me explain why it is so odious if I need to.

Firstly there are the assumptions that all those who rioted are claiming benefits. Yes, I know there are links to poverty but will how will there be an equivalent punishment for someone who commits a crime and does not claim any money from the State. This is an intentional scapegoating and targeting of poverty.

The riots were awful but the causes run much much deeper and broader than ‘gangs’ and ‘benefit fraud’.

Duncan-Smith in a truly odious and preaching manner seemed to make links between ‘generations of joblessness’ and the feckless claimants. He emphasised his joy in ripping away support for those who received Invalidity Benefit and while me gave a cursory nod to those who might have caring roles – he mentioned them solely in terms of the money that they save the government.

How about truly visionary leaders that display integrity and leadership rather than those who pander solely to  the lowest common denominator of cheap ‘kicks’ at those who need to claim money for support and those who are not able to afford the lives they see the privileged lead.

This week we have seen our millionaire cabinet members talk about the ‘feral underclass’ (Kenneth Clarke who was one of the few Tories I had a smidgeon of respect for previously).  Really?

Yes, the people involved in the riots may well have been some of the poorest and most disengaged but that doesn’t mean the cause of the riots needs to look solely at those who were out on the streets looting. If it does, it allows the cosy middle classes to look on from the suburbs (or in IDS language ‘inner cities’) to preach from their own comfortable positions of superiority.

These riots, this inequity, it is the problem of ‘other people’.

Surely the riots, the way that culture has become so consumerist in its nature, the dishonesty and the lack of censorship of anything other than ‘getting away with it’ the lack of inherent understanding of right from wrong in any other terms – that is not a problem of the poor and it is not a problem which is solved by taking away ‘benefits’. That merely pushes all the problems of a society onto one particular class that will match with the photofit of ‘problems’ that rest most easily in the middle-class heads. By looking at analysis of ‘who rioted’ or rather ‘who was caught‘ and looking at lists from magistrate’s courts we provide a very narrow view of what was responsible in our society for creating a moment when people thought they could ‘get away with it’.  The riots were not about who was rioting. They were about what is and has been happening within our society from top to tail and by concentrating reasons and solutions on the lower end, we allow those more privileged  to get away with all kinds of poor behaviours and excuse the problems that their behaviours have caused which have led to such strong feelings of disillusionment.

Personally and I base this on no research base other than my gut feeling, I think the problem  and the problems in society must be examined in a much deeper and more fundamental way. In England, at least, we have seen successive scandals and betrayals from the finance services through the collapse and deceit in the banking system, the MPs fiddling expenses compulsively, the Press through the phone hacking scandals and the police for bribery.

While politicians lament of a world where people loot ‘because they can get away with it’ and only refrain from crime not because of an inherent ethical desire but because they will not be caught, it is impossible to separate those who loot shops from those who loot the public purse. Those who sit in their comfortable suburban (sorry, inner city) homes.

How can we, as a nation, allow our poorest people to be scapegoated by an establishment (financial/political and media) that has been equally deceitful but who will never feel ‘benefits’ being taken away because they are all wrapped up in each others’ collective pockets. They will never be evicted from their council houses because of the behaviour of their children because they are fortunate enough to own their own homes and they will never suffer from having child benefit withdrawn when their kids truant because they aren’t reliant on child benefit and their children have trust funds.

How can we allow this to be the voice of ‘reason’ in the country?

I truly can’t understand it but I know it makes me angry.

RIP NHS?

Andrew Lansley, British politician and Shadow ...

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A truly national health service as conceived in the post-war years has been tottering on the brink for a number of years.  As the previous Labour government sowed, so the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives will reap today as the NHS and Social Care Bill reaches its last stages in the House of Commons  and the Conservative Party  institute their idealised version on a market-led health service which will deliver profits into the hands of investment companies and will place efficiency above effectiveness in treatment delivery methods.

Yes, I feel bitter, very bitter. I don’t see the Labour Party hauling us out of the mess that the both the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative Parties have conspired to leave us with because the Labour Party in their previous guise very much laid the groundwork for this to be done.

I find it hard to believe the audacity and the incompetence of our political elite as they push through a hugely unpopular bill tonight but then, as I pause, I wonder if it is truly incompetence as they are ‘getting away with it’.

We have been confused by details and have been tricked into believing a ‘consultation’ process has taken place. It has taken place very much on the government’s own terms and the listening that has been done has been very selective.

I try not to have a blanket opposition to the ‘private sector’ and ‘profit-making’ in the health and social care sectors but I’ve been burnt by experience. There are some companies that may well be able to improve some aspects of service delivery and I completely accept we all need to move away from the blind public/private being good/bad depending on where you stand on the political spectrum. That’s quite hard for me to ‘get my head around’ as I feel instinctively that profit should not be made from ill-health but equally the government’s obsession with public being bad is equally short-sighted and damaging.

What really sticks is the way that Cameron has blatantly misled the country in the quest for votes. ‘No top down reorganisation of the NHS’ he said, lying openly to the nation and yet we have to accept the mishmash garbage that he is now leading through Parliament as the Health and Social Care Bill and it moves towards it’s Third Reading in the House of Commons today.

I feel angry at the way that language has been turned and stolen from us.

‘Choice’  has become a catch-word but as I have discovered through the ill-spirited and contemptuous way that ‘individual budgets’ have been delivered in social care – choice mostly a luxury of the ‘worried well’ or the more affluent middle classes – in whose ranks sit all those MPs who vote on these changes today.

Choice means very little if you are not in a group that can cost a company money rather than increase their profits.

We have been hoodwinked into believing that ‘choice’ will genuinely exist when these private companies rip up our public services to deliver profit to their shareholders? I think we should ask whose ‘choices’ is it that the government and the health companies that support then, they will be?

Let me turn to the social care sector again because that’s an area I am familiar with. I am very familiar in the ways that privatisation has worked or rather, not worked and the way that ‘choice’ has been promoted – falsely – as the achievable outcome for all end users.

The pushing of the public sector from social care delivery has decreased ‘choice’ in many instances. In the areas I’m familiar with, local authorities have been pushed out as providers of residential and home care services to be replaced by companies such as Southern Cross (RIP), Bupa, Care UK (always worth repeating that they donated to fund Andrew Lansley’s private office)  and homes have closed, block contracts have been signed to provide care at the cheapest costs which increases profits for the private companies of course and limits choice for individuals who need these services.

Anyone who claims that the roll out of personal budgets has or will change this and has increased ‘choice’ I will point to those who have capacity issues – those without family or friends to support them – those who are more marginalised have far fewer choice than the ‘mainstream’ who are able to engage in the process and that suits the government and the propaganda machine just fine.

That is what I fear for with the Health Bill (I am not sure why it’s even called the Health and Social Care Bill as Social Care is so obviously a troublesome ‘aside’ for the government).

Choice may well be nice for making decisions about which hospital is most convenient for a scan but what is being done to assist, support and advocate for those who are not able to make choices?

We are all in this together? Really? I doubt it.

As for me, I’m off to the vigil outside the Houses of Parliament tonight with my local Unison branch.

The TUC have also organised an ‘online vigil’ to oppose the passage of this Act.

And then.. to the Lords. But I will take careful note of the voting as it happens tonight. And I won’t forget.

Benefits

I’ve made my position clear about ‘benefits’ over the year. ‘Benefits’ are not really benefits at all.

I decided to look at the meaning of the word ‘benefit’ and found (according to dictionary.com)

ben·e·fit

[ben-uh-fit]  noun, verb,ben·e·fit·ed or ben·e·fit·ted, ben·e·fit·ing or ben·e·fit·ting.

1.something that is advantageous or good; an advantage:

2.a payment or gift, as one made to help someone or given by a benefit society, insurance company, or public agency:

3.a theatrical performance or other public entertainment toraise money for a charitable organization or cause.

4.Archaic . an act of kindness; good deed;

Perhaps our national failing is that we still mentally see ‘benefits’ as a gift and not a right.  The payments given to those who have some form of need should not be considered as an ‘act of charity’ by government. It is money necessary to live not money in the gift of the government.

Sometimes language is and can be important.

By Cameron and his Conservative-led coalition like spreading the rhetoric that ‘benefits’ as well as ‘public housing’ should somehow be related to ‘good behaviour’.

This article for example as a case in point which explains

David Cameron wrote in a Sunday newspaper that he wanted to look at going further in welfare reforms, calling for the child benefit payments of parents who play truant from school to be withdrawn.

He suggested a more ambitious welfare reform programme when he posed the question of whether the government should be “asking much more of people on benefits who should be looking for work – or imposing even stricter penalties on those who refuse job offers?”

Cameron moves in a no-doubt electorally pleasing but morally questionable path.

Calling for the removal of child benefit payments to the parents of children who play truant is morally repulsive. It further impedes those who rely more heavily on those child benefit payments. Lets not forget that child benefit will be means tested soon (in a pathetically haphazard way but no matter). Where is the proposal for penalties for those parents who don’t receive child benefit and whose children play truant? Or do they really think truancy only affects ‘poor children’.

It insults our intelligence to make these proposals but they play very well to a public crowd that has been increasingly weaned to divide our own population into an ‘us/them’ dichotomy between those who work and those who do not work.

The government (and the previous government too) persist with a ‘divide and rule’ policy of presenting those who are not able to work against those who do work – well, we should never forget that for those us who aren’t party to the millions in trust funds that most of our government members grew up with – there is a extremely tenuous link between being a have and being a have-not.

The Guardian article goes on to quote Cameron saying

“What about welfare? The old something-for-nothing system we had under Labour had a poisonous effect on responsibility in our society. Again, we’ve already taken bold action – we’re in the process of moving hundreds of thousands of people who are fit to work off incapacity benefit and are imposing sensible limits on the amount of benefit people can take. But again, given the scale of the problem, can’t we go further? Say by asking much more of people on benefits who should be looking for work – or imposing even stricter penalties on those who refuse job offers?”

Something-for-nothing? Really? Personally I believe that people are entitled to a level of support from the state in order to live and that Cameron is playing games with words and assumptions when he appeals to the ‘Daily Mail’ reading crowd. He makes much reference to ‘benefit cheats’ as talks about ‘taking away benefits’ as if it is a reward that we had to well-behaved dogs and it is insulting in the extreme.

I those doubt that reforms are needed but the language in itself in invidious and pushes our thoughts to regard ‘benefits’ and ‘benefit claimants’ in a particularly unfavourable light.

And as an aside, as was pointed out to me, the photo in the Guardian article – well it has a picture of Charles and Camilla. Now THERE’S a family existing on benefits with absolutely no public gain and I think their social housing should be taken away for the genuine good of the nation. But that’s another question for another day..

Fixing the Broken not Healing the Wounded – a wrong-footed Government response

DAVOS/SWITZERLAND, 29JAN10 - David Cameron, Le...

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Our wise leader, David Cameron, clearly being an iconic Philosopher King, spent many days studying the possibly causes for the devastating riots in London and across England. He concluded after much intellectually rigorous pursuit, that the causes of the ‘sickness’ of Britain are – single parents and gangs aka ‘other people’.

Oh well, maybe he didn’t put quite as much thought into his words as I credited him for after all, he’s been toting those policy aims for decades. What more could we expect of him? Complex thought processes and analysis? Don’t be silly, he’s a politician who thrives on sound-bite politics that blames others.

I’m going to share a tiny bit of my own obviously clearly thought through analysis and that is this. There are no ‘easy’ solutions to the endemic problems that created a culture where people feel they can take what they want. This was not about ‘gangs’ although I’m willing to concede that might have been a fraction of one part of a ‘problem’. This is not about single parent families although yes, there may be people who are labelled that way. It seems that when our leaders set about scapegoating some of the voiceless citizens, we are heading for more divisions and damage than healing and unity which is what we really should be seeking. I’m not saying people should not be punished according to the law but they should not have new punishments invented specifically for them just to satisfy the vengence of the middle class who suffered for the first times when Ealing and Clapham burned.

These were Cameron’s words yesterday

Social problems that have been festering for decades have exploded in our face … Our security fightback must be matched by a social fightback,” Cameron said as he described the violent disorder as a “wake-up call” for Britain.

“Irresponsibility. Selfishness. Behaving as if your choices have no consequences. Children without fathers. Schools without discipline. Reward without effort. Crime without punishment. Rights without responsibilities. Communities without control. Some of the worst aspects of human nature tolerated, indulged – sometimes even incentivised – by a state and its agencies that in parts have become literally de-moralised.”

Setting out his personal priorities for government the prime minister promised he won’t be “found wanting”: “In my very first act as leader of this party I signalled my personal priority: to mend our broken society. That passion is stronger today than ever.”

There’s a lot here to get our collective heads around. A lot of dangerous assumptions and a clear view into the simplistic mind of someone who is supposed to be a leader and has proved himself beyond inadequate for the task.  The Financial Times for example, explains that these riots happened in a period where crime figures had been falling consistency? A moral breakdown? Perhaps not.

Irresponsibility? Like appointing a press secretary whom you have repeatedly been warned not to appoint and to continue to give him ‘second chances’ when you don’t consider second chances for the person who steals a bottle of water.

Selfishness? Like the MPs who gorged themselves on expense claims.

Behaving as if your choices have no consequences? Oh, well, for this one I have to reference the Iain Duncan Smith story from The Broken of Britain

Now, all those platitudes, we get onto the real meatiness that Cameron is gagging for.

Children without fathers? Excuse me? Does he realise how he stigmatises and chastises all the fine families that are raised by a single parent? Does he really think the presence of a man and a woman in a family unit regardless of whether they actually want to be together (the usual reason that splits take place) will ‘help’ the children? He is a fool and it is a dangerous message. Male or female role models do not have to be parents and unhappy parenting is not a useful environment in any circumstances. Cameron has his ideal of the perfect ‘Chipping Norton’ family just as he has his ideal of the perfect ‘Chipping Norton’ community. It is damagingly false and it seeks to further stigmatise and alienate those who for very many good reasons, do not conform to his traditional family view. Does he refer to families with two mothers or two fathers or single-father families? What about communities with extended friends as support? He is finding it too easy to paint ‘poor people’ with a brush.

Schools without discipline? Again an easy target. How about actually putting money and effort into the schools that exist then rather than trying to hive them off into ‘free schools’.

Reward without effort? Um.. Mr Cameron.. you know, you with the inheritence of millions. Can you tell us exactly what effort you put into the accident of your birth?

Crime without punishment? – Well, I suppose that depends on definitions but an awful lot of crimes seem to be getting some mightily grand punishments at the moment. Unlike the bankers who ravaged the finances of the nation.

Rights without responsibilities? Dangerous stuff here. See, he has been quoting that awfully subversive Human Rights Act. Possibly because he, in his privileged position would never have need to refer to it.

Communities without control? Interesting one. I wonder what exactly he means. Which communities are these? Poor communities? Communities of people with different minority ethnic backgrounds? Gangs? It’s pretty rhetoric and a nice alliteration but it is meaningless.

You see, I don’t believe Britain is ‘broken’. I think she is functioning as well as she can despite the government though. I think the more that the rhetoric fixes on the ‘sick pockets’ and less on the body politic the more she will begin to sicken though.

Cameron’s ‘solution’ to help to fix (note fix not heal)  this country is to bring in Emma Harrison from Action for Employment as a ‘Families Champion’. Really? That’s a bit patronising and it seems to dictate to us as adult citizens what ‘families’ the government approves of and disapproves of but back to Emma Harrison who has built her millions on the back of the government’s ‘Welfare to Work’ programmes. Is this really a call for more private profit-making?

What message does it send about making money off the back of so-called ‘broken families’ and trying to fix them?

For me, Cameron’s heavy-handed and quite frankly ignorant response to the riots is a sign of a far more broken element of British society. The ruling classes and their detached empathy sensors. That has already caused a lot of damage and is likely to cause far more in the future and we need to be wary of it and try and push the agenda towards healing rather than fixing.

Communities

One word that has come up a lot in the last few days are discussions about communities.

Whether is it ‘affected communities’, or ‘community leaders’ or ‘rebuilding communities’ and it has made me wonder about what the meaning of the word is.

build community

whizchickonabun@flickr

Also in terms of the work I do, I think about the word and the way it is used in the personalisation agenda about ‘building community capacity’. The government uses community in terms of the ‘big society’, volunteering, giving power to communities, but they don’t really explain exactly what this means excepting the idea that ‘community’ is somehow a Good Thing. Strong communities are good.

So what is a ‘community’?

This is the definition given on Dictionary.com.

1.a social group of any size whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage.

2.a locality inhabited by such a group.

3. a social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists (usually preceded by the )

The first two definitions base the term on a geographical location. Your community is the people who inhabit the world around you. The community might be all the people who live within this local area or it might be people of a specific cultural/historical heritage who live within this local area.

I wonder if the idea of splitting apart ‘community’ on the basis of cultural heritage is helpful sometimes.

What is clear is that the meaning of community is very different in Tottenham from  how it is in Chipping Norton.

The word is used in the context of building communities ‘online’. Obviously that comes under the third part of the definition. A community exists within a forum or even within readers of a blog. A community can be a Facebook group or a Twitter stream. We can belong to a range of communities. Some communities though, take more effort to join and be a part of than others.

Some communities we are born into by virtue of location and/or culture and history.

Some communities we move into through geographic location.

Some communities we actively choose to join.

The government talk about community as if it is the answer to every solution but I wonder how they feel the answers will come in areas where communities are not as cohesive as they know and are used to or not as homogenous in nature.

This is a part of the detachment I feel of the government from the people who are governed.  Cameron’s ‘community’ doesn’t feel and look like my ‘community’.

My community has different needs and concerns. My community doesn’t have the resources, either in time or money that his community does.

What gives some communities more ‘value’ than others? That’s the question that I ask myself frequently. When government leaders seek out ‘community leaders’ do they prescribe value to the communities on the basis of the loudest voices or the largest numbers?

Are those who are isolated or who don’t have families or voices detached from any kind of community? I suspect they are and sometimes people don’t want to be a part of a community.

Community is always seen in terms of being a good thing, but the people involved in the riots and mass destruction across London as well as other cities, they were part of a community too. Why is community always positive? Perhaps because the experiences of those who ‘rule’ is that they come from communities, yes, that word again, where there is hope and aspiration. Communities can drag people down as well as pull people up and when we talk about ‘community building, we can’t ignore the uglier aspects of some communities.

As Cameron talks of ‘pockets of sick society’, I think we know where he is pointing the finger.  He is pointing the finger at ‘other communities’. He is pointing the finger away from himself and people like him. This is not his problem because this is not his community. Are those ‘pockets’ communities within themselves? It seems to me that they are and there needs to be a recognition that community is far broader in scope than the ‘let’s all help each other’ model.

The sooner we broaden communities and build communities across economic and cultural lines the more we improve society. If we, like the Prime Minister states, see this as a problem with ‘pockets of a sick society’ we isolate and abandon those elements and detach them from our own more mainstream society.

That is dangerous.

The sickness of society is that there are ‘pockets’ within it.  This is not simply about poverty. This is about the difference between building exclusive and inclusive societies and yes, communities.

Communities have to reach out and build bridges across them. We have to build more inclusion. We have to take responsibility and those that wish to push us into communities have to understand better the way the networks are interdependent.

My community is hurting. The only way I can see to rebuild it is to involve myself in it.

If anything indicates that there is a role for more macro social work. A role for community work  but an inclusive type of community that doesn’t self-select and is able to reach out to those who might not naturally seek to be a part.

I have felt fear this week, in a way I haven’t felt fear before. I’ve also felt anger and sadness. Now, I’m trying to find hope and I have and I will.

But I still despair of the politicians who purport to ‘lead’ us and the desperate isolation and detachment I feel between my world and the world I see and the worlds in which they move.

Community has a better hope of existing when some of the barriers between ‘us’ and ‘them’ are challenged and broken down.

That’s the real challenge for communities in these days ahead of us and we can no longer leave it in the hands of detached politicians who live in their own privileged communities.

We need to build. As the world moves on to the next News story, those of us left need to hold our attention on those around us and see what we might not have seen if we didn’t choose to look.

So what does community mean for you? Is it a useful word or has its lost it’s use through overused dullness?

I’d be interested in the responses because it’s been vexing my mind for a while.

London – Some thoughts and hopes

I didn’t sleep  much last night. Or the night before. Or the night before that. My city is burning. There is a tangible fear in the air. I’m not above it because I feel it and I see it.

I don’t want to listen to politicians being parachuted in (when they finally arrive back in the country) to talk about mindless violence and talking to ‘community leaders’.  ‘Community leaders’ who are self-appointed and seem to want to polarise and divide rather than come together and heal.

Don’t speak to community leaders, come and speak to me. Come and speak to people like me who just want to find ways for sense and our voice to be heard. I’m just as much a part of this community as ‘church leaders’. Why are they credited with greater access to the ‘influential’.

I want people who live here and love this city to find ways to heal her and pull her together. I don’t want the same ‘community leaders’ speaking to the same ‘politicians’ trying to build up their own special interests and agendas.

I want to shout and scream and rage at all those who seem hell-bent on destruction but this is a symptom not a cause.

This is and never was about race. This is about age and belonging. How can you care for a society when society cares nothing for you?

This is a disaffected youth who are devoid of a moral compass because our society values goods and monetary worth over basic humanity. This is what has been learnt. The ‘establishment’ doesn’t work for you but against you. You take what you can.

Perhaps though, these awful scenes and desperate situations will provide an opportunity to build a better society for everyone and to reach out to disaffected youth and marginalised people.

Maybe, this will be the way to build a real, true community and to build a better London.

I love this city. I was born here. It’s my home. It has its rough and smooth.  But it is a good place and it is filled with good people. There are enough of us here to force a triumph for the good.

Fear and Loathing in the Public Sector – Or Why I despise Oliver Letwin

Oliver Letwin, United Kingdom Conservative Par...

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Yesterday I read this article about Oliver Letwin, who, according to the Guardian article

..warned that it was only through “some real discipline and some fear” of job losses that excellence would be achieved in the public sector.

Letwin added that some of those running schools and hospitals would not survive the process and that it was an “inevitable and intended” consequence of government policy.

A little background about Oliver Letwin. I’m always a little wary of using Wikipedia as a source but a few choice verifiable ‘quotes’  jump out.

He is the ‘architect of modern Conservative party policy’.

He would rather ‘beg than send his children to an inner city school’

Oh and earlier this year he said did not ‘want more families from Sheffield taking cheap foreign holidays’.

So do we have a picture of the man? The Eton-educated man who would not know the real effects of true fear in the workplace? That encompassing, sleep depriving fear of not knowing if you can afford your next mortgage payment or if your job will be there next week, next month or next year.

Does fear drive excellence?

Let me tell Mr Letwin exactly what it means in the working environment that I am based in.

I work in a Community Mental Health Team – our team has been decimated – actually to use that word literally, it is far worse than decimation – over the past two years. No, I don’t restrict the blame to the current government but include changes under the previous government in my criticism.

We have piles of unallocated ‘virtual’ files while we are pushed to the limits by increasing expectations regarding recording and inputting data which is supposed to ‘prove’ our efficiency.

We have had wards closed at the local hospital such that people who need emergency hospital admissions to psychiatric hospitals are placed away from their communities or on ‘inappropriate’ wards. I have police unable to provide assistance because their services have been cut.

Fear drives efficiency, he says? In our service we have been told there will be job cuts including possibilities of compulsory redundancies. Yes, I’m fearful.

The ‘consultation’ about what will actually be proposed for our jobs will probably be announced soon but we’ve known it has been coming for months. We’ve heard rumours. We’ve heard gossip. We’ve heard absolutely zero from our managers though. Nice. Way to generate lots of fear. All boxes ticked.

So what has this fear done for our efficiency? We are beyond demoralised. We have more people leaving and taking jobs elsewhere and  people are  taking longer periods of sick leave.

I know that Letwin wasn’t referring to the ‘front line’ staff in the public sector – oh no, he meant the managers because he is of a class and a mindset that probably finds it hard to hold a conversation on a human level with anyone who earns under £100,000 per year.

The distinction between ‘frontline’ and ‘backroom’ is a false one though as it is impossible that can operate without the other.

Hospital wards are closing. Cuts are being pushed through. We feel your ‘pressure’ Letwin. We feel your fear. But I could not possibly despise  you any more than I do for your ignorance and self-serving words that for me, epitomise what the Conservative Party and their ideology-driven cuts want to do to this country.

I would like to ask Letwin if he is happy to condone a country of Castlebecks. Well, you see, coming from someone who would ‘rather beg than send his child to an inner city school’ – he would never be in a position to actually know or understand the real concerns of people who are dependent on public services because he can always choose the private course for himself and his family.

I know he wants to ‘make a name for himself’. He likes to garner attention and oh, how clever he is to want to drive ‘fear’ into the public sector but that, to me, sounds close to cruelty.

Efficiency? I think we can do with  fewer MPs who feel the need to make claims for repairs to their tennis courts and to have their Agas serviced.

What kind of society have we become when we feel it is appropriate for a Government ‘Policy Minister’ to drive a disdain and almost bullying approach to a public sector that provides services he will never need?

Oh and the speech he made these remarks in?

It took place

at the London headquarters of KPMG, one of the biggest recipients of government cash, which won the first contract for NHS commissioning following the decision to scrap primary care trusts and further open the health service to private companies.

Nice work, Letwin. Roll on, executive consultancy. You are all in each others’ pockets.

Meanwhile I have work tomorrow.

You enjoy your private tennis court today.

Selling the NHS – The Beginning

The National Health Service Norfolk and Norwic...

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Yesterday, while most of the media, fixated self-referentially on the Murdoch hearings and Cameron was flying back into the country,  Lansley began to dismantle the National Health Service.

As The Guardian reports

In the first wave, beginning in April, eight NHS areas – including musculoskeletal services for back pain, adult hearing services in the community, wheelchair services for children, and primary care psychological therapies for adults – will be open for “competition on quality not price”. If successful, the “any qualified provider” policy would from 2013 see non-NHS bodies allowed to deliver more complicated clinical services in maternity and “home chemotherapy”.

So we are led to believe that being open for ‘competition on quality not price’ will act to pat us on the head, reassure us, and direct us back to the ‘big media story’.

It worries me and it worries me for a number of reasons. Lansley’s words are couched in the words of ‘choice’ but I wonder exactly whose ‘choice’ it will be to make these commissioning decisions for which, no doubt, large amounts of money will change hands and profit-making publicly listed and private companies will be able to partake.

I admit to a bias having been exposed and having experience in the adult care sector which was subject to a similar rollout of competition which was supposed to increase choice and quality.

I’ve written many times about the end result and how it is one that has inherently favoured larger providers and companies that have been able to deliver on economies of scale rather than the poetic vision of small scale providers delivering local services. Those small scale providers were quickly priced out of the market and I fear this will happen again.

But wait, I hear, ‘quality not price’ Lansley says.. to which I reply, ‘nonsense’.

Why? Because there will probably be minimum standards of ‘quality’ that a service has to reach and beyond those, it will be a price competition. That’s what is supposed to happen in care – but who checks the standards? who will check the standards? How can we have confidence in a well-resourced and well-delivered service when regulators are so weak.

I do not want any private company to make a profit on my potential need for services for my back pain, my hearing or a child’s wheelchair.

Of course, making the publicly delivered service is clearly both too expensive and veering against the government doctrine of handing the healthcare to private companies.

I am sure the first few providers will intersperse local voluntary organisations with large multinational corporations in their delivery methods. Again, I point to the adult social care sector. We started along the path with the NHS and Community Care Act (1990) having a lot of local providers together with a few Southern Crosses and Care UKs. The local providers were eventually priced out.

Of course in the case of podiatry and hearing services as well as primary care psychological therapies, we can see these as almost discreet services. The ones that will potentially be easy to deliver and it will always be possible to find wonderfully successful outcomes for people choosing Boots rather than the local NHS for their podiatry appointments because it is more convenient. And I’m sure it seems to pave the way for Individual Health Budgets where people  are given the money to ‘spend’ on the services that they need. Choice you see. Choice is what it’s all about.

I turn back and look at what has happened in social care. Choice has been extended in wonderful ways to those with the loudest voices but in some ways those with the highest needs have been left behind. That is my main concern about the introduction of private into public.

For some people, the people in the comfortable middle classes of Chipping Norton, this is fantastic news – they can access their IAPT (or equivalent) by a local provider when they are feeling a bit down. They can have their feet checked in a local branch of Boots instead of having to travel into Oxford. All’s well.

Those will be the areas where both competition and choice are the highest.

My concern is that people who experience the degradation of poverty will have quieter voices and less choice because there may be higher multiples of health difficulties and choice is determined through power. I can’t help but think of people who are restricted in their choice by issues of capacity. Will they be given advocates to assist with the process or will they just be ignored? Will the choice by made by GPs who are courted by these private companies, just as they are currently courted by drugs companies?

How equitable will the ‘new’ system be?

If we are extending choice, we have to extend safeguards and checks.

If we are extending choice, we have to extend quality.

It hasn’t happened in social care – there is no reason to believe or trust that it will happen in healthcare.

It does make me wonder – Are we all in this together? Really? With the impact analysis projects that are carried out to ensure equality, I know there are provisions to look at ability and disability, gender etc but are social class and income level also considered?

And think – Lansley considers putting ‘quality’ in as a concession – he was happy to go ahead with the Bill and with a pure ‘cost’ factor. This is his so-called concession but it is no concession at all if we don’t have a definition of what ‘quality’ is. After all, the CQC – too look at the Health Care regulator – defines ‘quality’ on the basis of paper documents and paper inspections given to them by provider services.

If that doesn’t wave any red flags, I don’t know what will.

This is a government of interests rather than representatives. The shame is that the last government was too and likely all the future ones will be as long as we allow our heads to be turned more quickly by celebrity gossip than the tragedies unfolding in our adult care services.

Goodbye Southern Cross, Hello Open Public Services

So Southern Cross – the largest private care home provider in the UK will be closed.

What of the 31,000 residents who live in their properties? Well, the government has given us its assurance that they will be ok so that’s alright then.

Or not.

Goodbye, Hello

m kasahara @ flickr

On the day that the Open Public Services White Paper was published  (which can be found here – pdf) – which couched in the comfort of positive words like ‘choice’ , we would do well to heed the warnings of the way in which social care was sold off in chunks, from public to private and reflect on whether it is better to allow care homes to ‘fail’ in order to prove that the strongest will rise to the ‘top’.

The problem is that Southern Cross WAS the strongest. It did rise. It also speculated on property and ownership transferred away from the core business base of providing care and homes for those who needed both.

But on a more pressing issue, what will happen to those who live in Southern Cross homes and work for Southern Cross homes.

As the Independent says

Analysis by the GMB union revealed the names of 80 landlords who own 615 of the homes, many of which are subsidiaries of larger companies registered overseas. This makes it much harder to obtain financial information about the companies as rules governing accountability and transparency, especially in “tax havens” such as Jersey, Cayman Islands and British Virgin Islands are significantly more lax.

In addition, the GMB was unable to trace more than 120 landlords, which mean thousands of people are living in care homes where the identities of the owners and directors are unknown.

In the absence of full company accounts and other relevant information, such as the names of directors, it is “nigh on impossible” to assess whether they are suitable to run care homes funded in large part by public money, according to Andrew Craven, GMB statistician and researcher

At least the ‘Department of Health’ spokesman says

“Whatever the outcome, no one will find themselves homeless or without care. We will not let that happen. Today’s announcement does not change the position of residents. The Care Quality Commission will continue to monitor the services provided… We have been in constant contact over the course of discussions and remain ready to talk to all parties.”

That’s reassuring. Or not. Would that spokesman or anyone in the Department of Health want that level of uncertainty lying over their head or the heads of one of their parents? The residents of the homes will not know who their landlords are or whether they are fit to run care homes at all. Of course no-one will find themselves homeless – it will be the local authorities, the elected local authorities who will have to spend and fret themselves out of this one – nothing to do with the Department of Health’s reassurances – unless the Department of Health is going to compensate those local authorities for the time and cost they spend to ensure the welfare of residents of Southern Cross homes that may close.

As for the CQC, I think we have established that it is unfit for purpose and unable to regulate a care industry that has grown too large and too costly to be regulated efficiently. How about an idea? The Department of Health invests very heavily directly in the CQC so that they can provide at least twice-yearly, unannounced inspections together with a host of lay visitors attached to every single residential and nursing home?

No, the Department of Health is weedling out of this crisis as it will weedle out of the cost of ensuring that the residents of Southern Cross Care Homes are not made homeless.

Now, I want to link some of these issues to the Public Service White Paper that was published yesterday and particularly one or two sentences I picked out.

Firstly

In the context of rolling out more extensive ‘choice’ in other areas of government, the paper says

‘We will ensure that individual service providers are licensed or registered by the relevant regulator for each sector (e.g. the Care Quality Commission) so that those choosing services can known that providers are reliable, without stifling cost”

Does that not lead to a tiny little shiver down ones spine? The CQC is being held up as a reason to trust in this extension of ‘choice’.  Has noone mentioned the cost of good quality regulation, either.  It’s worth reading this post at The Small Places for more consideration of the way the CQC regulates social care services. The CQC has failed to regulate and the care sector is failing to deliver on personalisation so far. The care sector has had time to learn as well. We had direct payments for many years and before that the ILF (Independent Living Fund) which allowed payments to be made directly to adults with disabilities to choose care. The system should be sophisticated enough by now to deliver good quality, equitable services but it has taken many years even to reach this point. There’s a long long way to go.

Secondly

“The wider public sector has much to learn from local authority successes in commissioning, for example, in adult social care”.

See, look at us, government, we’re a success! Success. This is the end-result of success. Adult care commissioning is not a success. It has not extended choice unless of course (and I think I’ve found the key) success is based on the principle of privatisation and provision of contracts to the those who deliver at the lowest cost regardless of quality. That is the adult social care ‘success’ that the government is lauding in the Open Public Services White Paper.

We are dazzled by words such as ‘choice’ and ‘open government’  but they have no meaning outside ‘lowest cost’ and ‘discharge of responsibility’.

Think of Southern Cross. Think of Adult Social Care. It’s coming to our homes, our hospitals, our high schools and our highways.

So much for my week of positivity!

Calm Down, Dear – and Why I Won’t

DAVOS/SWITZERLAND, 29JAN10 - David Cameron, Le...

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This isn’t really a social work specific lesson although it helps, it’s something that comes in handy in all professions.

You give respect, you receive respect. Sometimes it can be a bit more complex and sometimes you work with people from whom you can never be expected to get that respect back from – because of underlying attitudes or because of personalities but it doesn’t matter too much – water off the back and you continue to treat those whom you come into contact with with respect.

It doesn’t hurt and you have to have a bit of a thick skin.

There are many of these reciprocal ‘lessons’. Never ask someone to do something you wouldn’t do yourself is one that draws me back to my work, pre-qualification, as a care assistant. Don’t place someone in a care home you wouldn’t be happy to place your parent/child in. That can be more problematic because the supply and demand are not equivalent and sometimes geography limits the choice of residential care settings but I do think it is the best point to start from at the very least.

Provide services that you would want for yourself or your (insert close family/friend) would want. It’s fairly basic stuff.

So I think it indicates some of my discomfort about Cameron’s ‘calm down, dear’ moment in the House of Commons yesterday but more broadly, the level of banter and conviviality in Parliament that seems to replicate an  poor debating society for under 16s in a private school.

Sexist? Probably but did we ever think he was anything but? Intentionally so? No, I don’t think so. It’s the kind of talk and ‘rebuttal’ that comes naturally.

Disrespectful? Absolutely. It was a put down intended to diminish the speaker to whom it was addressed. That is more of my objection. Whether the person he was talking to was male or female, it is the kind of patronising tosh I don’t want to hear from a Prime Minister, although  I do think there is an agenda to diminish the sexist aspect and write off women who may be offended as ‘not being able to take a joke’ which  even further demeans those who might be offended by his comments or worse, use the feminist label to somehow make itself equivalent to having ‘no sense of humour’.

Honestly, if that is the level of humour that I should be chortling about, I’m very happy to be labelled as just ‘not getting it’ in favour of being a very proud feminist.

And how would you react if your manager said that to you? Well, not very positively. I know I wouldn’t.

Perhaps it is the ‘cut and thrust’ of the House of Commons? Lame response. As one of the people who doesn’t necessarily ‘enjoy’ the adversarial and frankly, childish response of our politicians waving and cheering like sheep in a  herd, I find it hard to understand the appeal of this rambunctiousness.  Oh, it’s tradition? Well, change it.

It is an indication that behaviour in the House of Commons follows a clear path from their schooldays. It is an attitude that automatically appeals to a certain type, and yes, a certain ‘class’ of person who feels comfortable in an environment where respect is a far distant imagination.

It is a work environment that encourages pieces like this in the Daily Telegraph. Seriously. Oh, what? I was supposed to find this ignorant and childish ‘blog’ by a major ‘quality’ newspaper which puts a little red ring around the breasts of a female MP and asks readers to ‘guess whose boobs these are?’ funny? Smacks of harassment to me. It actually sickens me.

Yes, sure, say I have ‘no sense of humour’ if that is your recourse but what kind of society condones this as humour? Not one I feel comfortable in and is ‘having a sense of humour’ so important that it can bypass respect, well, I’m happy to lack one.

Cameron talks of jokes and throw-away remarks but what he and the Daily Telegraph display is a lack of respect that he has probably never been party to by virtue of his position. The view of George Osborne laughing heartily at David Cameron’s intensely patronising ‘joke’ makes me realise how detached these politicians are from the reality of life in the UK at the moment.

We get the politicians we deserve though. That’s the tragedy. I just think we can do a whole lot better than these who seem to make a mockery of the political class of which they are members.

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