Selling the NHS – The Beginning

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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

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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.

Enemies of Enterprise

I am a generally tolerant person. It’s useful in this profession of social work and my broadly tolerant nature has served me well throughout my life. I would like to think I don’t make enemies often.

Apparently though, Cameron has declared war on the ‘Enemies of Enterprise’.  I think as a public servant I might come into his broad sweep of his judgement as an ‘enemy’ although I hardly fall into his vision of a ‘bureaucrat’ – not that you’d believe that if you saw the amount of forms and pieces of paper on my desk  but I digress, apart from having unfortunate ‘Star Trek’ related flashbacks (should I admit to that?!) I can see where he was heading with his speech to the Conservative Party Spring Conference.

Klingon portrait Photo Patries71@flickr

These ‘enemies of enterprise’ are bureaucrats, you know, the ‘back office staff’ that the government seems to eager to get rid of who put red tape in the paths of energetic and well-meaning dynamic small businesses who want to build competitive practice into the public sector.

I’ll let Cameron’s own words explain how he sees these groups of enemies (as quoted in the New Statesman).

So I can announce today that we are taking on the enemies of enterprise.The bureaucrats in government departments who concoct those ridiculous rules and regulations that make life impossible, particularly for small firms.The town hall officials who take forever with those planning decisions that can be make or break for a business – and the investment and jobs that go with it.The public sector procurement managers who think that the answer to everything is a big contract with a big business and who shut out millions of Britain’s small and medium sized companies from a massive potential market.

Incidently, I do recommend Danny Blanchflower’s article in the New Statesman and was particularly scathing of Cameron.

I also though, want to look at some of the words and criticism that Cameron employs in relation to the only sector that I know and that is the adult care sector.

I have as little time for ill-conceived large contracts as anyone. Actually, no, scratch that, I have possibly even less time for large contracts than most because I have seen the quality of care provision take a nosedive as local authority procurement is detached from service delivery. But Cameron needs to look at what he and his government are doing.

The reason the large contracts have been established is because they can deliver with economies of scale, the lowest prices. No, price should not be the only consideration in quality provision but if anything by forcing increasing financial strain on the local authorities, he and his government is making things worse – not better.

Councils are paying less to providers because they can. I was at a small and incredibly well run residential home last week that warmed the cockles of my heart. This was a good quality, small provider. I met the owner of the home and she had two other homes. The staff team were  happy and the residents were delighted. But she told me the local authorities had decided to reduce the payments they were making to her for the same type of placements and she had no choice  but to agree.  She wondered aloud if it was worth continuing in the job as she was ‘taking a loss’ on some residents by providing them with higher support than the local authority was paying for.

These are exactly the types of providers and care homes that will be affected by a further layer of complexity and bureaucracy that the government are introducing through their ‘so-called’ Excellence Ratings for Care Homes that I wrote about last week. How does this marry with Cameron’s vision of the enemies of enterprise circling to swoop and pick off small providers. It is the government and politicians who have proved themselves to tick all the boxes that Cameron has highlighted to favour large providers over small businesses.

I’m not saying that necessarily throwing money at private companies at the answer but by painting ‘evil bureaucrats’ and ‘back office staff’ in the civil service and local government as ‘enemies of enterprise’ fails to understand or appreciate the role that central government policy and funding has had in creating these systems which rely on large companies (which, incidently, fund the Conservative Party).

And just briefly I want to come to the ‘town hall officials who take forever with planning decisions’ because out of work in my own home, I’ve been involved with opposing a planning decision regarding the placement of a restaurant below my flat. The delay related to something called ‘consultation with residents’. Actually, collectively in the block I lived we did successfully oppose the conversation of the shop to a restaurant – you know, maybe that’s ‘big society’ but it did take time to organise people to oppose and if you shorten the length of consultation periods you may well infringe of the rights of individuals to oppose unfavourable planning applications.

I wonder what Cameron actually knows about small business, enterprise or the work that goes on in the civil service and local government? I suspect little because if he did he would see the contradictions in his different policy statements.

Possibly he wants to deliver a message and forgets that what he says contradicts with other decisions and statements the government is making. Perhaps if he is so opposed to ‘enemies of enterprise’ he should also tackle the places of large businesses to wholesale scoop up large sections of the soon-to-be contracted out NHS services at the expense of individual providers and small GP practices who will be forced, again through the potential savings through economies of scale, to use the services of larger companies.

As Blanchflower says in the New Statesman, Cameron forgets about potentially alienating even further public sector workers by his somewhat comical and misinformed rhetoric, but that doesn’t seem to stop him.

As for me, I’m off back to my Klingon spaceship to arm myself in combat against the Enterprise. …

Making Work Pay – Thoughts on the Welfare Reform Bill

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Yesterday Iain Duncan Smith unveiled his ‘flagship’ welfare reform bill amid much nodding and clapping on the part of the government. He was, he declared, going to end the ‘benefit culture’ and ensure that work pays.

There is something disconcerting  in the tone of IDS’ statement. It seems obvious to assume that work should be something that is a default option but I still find it hard to understand the emphasis on ‘the feckless’ and ‘the idle’.

To try and shame and insult people into work when there is no work to be had seems particularly callous.

I don’t have any moral problems with the changes to a universal benefit type system incidently. The current system does need reform and there are always changes and improvements that can be made but there are a couple of elements of this Bill that I feel particularly strongly about.

As anyone who has worked alongside me can confirm, knowledge of benefits is not my forte’. We have a team in the council (for the moment, very likely to be cut) to whom we refer people who we feel might not be getting as much as they should. Note that, because it’s crucial and absolutely shapes my ‘real life’ knowledge of benefits. That’s PEOPLE WHO ARE UNDERCLAIMING.

And yes, there are many whom I have come across over the years.

But back to the main points of the Bill announced – the BBC list the main changes as being

  • A single universal credit to come into force in 2013
  • Tax changes to enable people to keep more income
  • Changes to the disability living allowance
  • More details of the back-to-work programme
  • Those refusing to work facing a maximum three-year loss of benefits
  • Annual benefit cap of about £26,000 per family
  • Review of sickness absence levels

The first two elements are fairly  uncontroversial.

Changes to the disability living allowance

Changes in the disability living allowance is anything but.  publication of changes in the DLA and referring to the Personal Independence Payment (PiP)  in the Part 4 of the Welfare Reform Bill seems to run counter intuitively to the fact that the actual DLA consultation ends today – you know, the day AFTER the publication of this bill. I wonder how much there actually is to consult on.

There is a little subsection about ‘persons of pensionable age’ which confirms their exclusion (as is currently the case) but I read it as meaning that there will be a change in that currently if you receive DLA prior to 65 (or equivalent pensionable age) you continue to receive DLA (Which is higher than the ‘over 65’ benefit ( Attendance Allowance). It seems that this will stop and all PiP will stop at pensionable age (which, of course, will be above 65 in the future).

This will mean a potential significant disadvantage to those who are disabled prior to their pensionable age.

DLA will also be removed from those who are not resident in the UK which I assume will affect some of those who currently claim within the EU. That has been taken away.

I am not expert at reading legislation but that’s how I  have read it. There are few details but then again, the consultation on the change between the DLA and the PiP is still in progress as this Bill has been published.

More details of the back-to-work programme

There are going to be four categories of ‘work related activity’ specified  required of claimants who are unemployed.

Work focused interview requirement, Work preparation requirement, Work search requirement and work availability requirement. I won’t go into the details of these because they are available on the DWP website.

More interesting, I found to be the four groups of people and what would be required of them in order to be paid their universal credit.

So there would be those with:-

‘No work-related requirement’

This will be applied if the claimant ‘has limited capacity for work’ – which is yet to be determined – probably by a private company like ATOS. If they have ‘regular and substantial’ caring responsibilities for ‘a severely disabled person’. I have only to listen to the government spokespeople and wonder about definitions.  If they are the main carer for a child under 1 or meet ‘other conditions’ which are not specified but obviously given the framing of the legislation some flexibility.

‘A work focused interview requirement only’

This is specified for a main carer of a child between 1 and 3.

‘A work preparation and interview requirement’

This is specified both for carers of children aged 4-5 as well as others who may have limits to their ability to work.  This is the part, that, for example, includes a ‘health assessment’.  It also includes taking part in employment programmes.

‘All work-related requirements’

Fairly self evident and that’s everyone else.

Those refusing to work facing a maximum three-year loss of benefits

Sanctions are to be imposed if the work-related requirements are not met.  These are set out in 26(1) (chap 2) of the Bill.

So basically if someone fails to apply for a specific vacancy that might be suitable (lots of scope for interpretation here), doesn’t take up a specific job offered or is sacked (because of misconduct) or resigns from a job – ‘with no good reason’.

Currently sanctions apply in some of these cases but the main difference is the length of time that they may apply.

I do wonder who this is meant to punish and am concerned particularly about the effect it may have on children who are dependent on their parents for income.

Annual benefit cap of about £26,000 per family

The benefit cap remains associated with a family rather than listed per individual. I wonder if this links with Mr Duncan Smith and his ilks’ promotion of marriage..

Personally, I’m very uncomfortable with the idea of a specific benefit cap because families come in all sizes and with many different needs. Yes, disability benefits are going to be excluded from the cap but it is important to remember that disability benefits are going to be reduced substantially (at least 20%) in any case.

As a Londoner, living in one of the highest cost cities in the world, it also doesn’t make sense to me that a blanket cap be placed nationally with no thought to the different costs of living in different areas. I’m not saying that £26,000 isn’t a fair whack. Of course it is, the figure is based on national average earnings, but, and this is a bit but, we are not all uniform in our needs and costs.

A definite benefit cap seems more about deterring some of the front page stories in the Daily Mail about ‘scroungers’ rather than a real chance to get to grips with defining and working on need.

Review of sickness absence levels

Cameron and his proxy Iain Duncan Smith, also announced a ‘war on sick note Britain’.

I suppose this is the relation to ESA (Employment and Support Allowance) which is replaced the previous ‘Incapacity Benefit’ and is given to claimants who are unable to work due to illness or disability.

(Note – DLA is NOT an out of work benefit – it is non-means tested and it given in relation to meeting additional costs related to the disability itself – hence it allows a lot of people to continue to work – it’s a bit of a red herring to stick it in with all of the work-related benefits here).

For ESA, the government are reducing the people that a contributory (generally higher) rate is paid to one year only. This will significantly affect people who have long term illnesses and disabilities.

The ESA claimants who are in the work-related stream will be subject to the same work-related requirements as detailed above.

I have no doubt that there are many details that I’ve missed. This is just a precursory glance at the Bill and some of the writing around it this morning.

While there are elements that need to change the focus on a deserving and undeserving claimant does not credit to our society.

The victimisation and ostracisation of people who cannot work or cannot find work particularly in a climate of rising unemployment creates the potential of a much larger underclass and people who feel they have no stake in the future.

It doesn’t help that the cabinet that introduce this legisalation is very much one of privilege that have never known and understood hardship and the desperation that comes from not being able to find work when you really do want and need to.

No, they can buy their own children internships..

This creates more of a dichotomous state.

Us v Them

Rich v Poor

Deserving v Undeserving

There has to be a better way to live than to punish, force and shame people into work.

Cameron and Multiculturalism

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Firstly, apologies that I’m a little late to this but I wasn’t around at the weekend to comment.

Cameron made a speech on Saturday in Munich was an attempt to echo Merkel’s speech in October where

She said the so-called “multikulti” concept – where people would “live side-by-side” happily – did not work, and immigrants needed to do more to integrate – including learning German.

The full text of Cameron’s speech is on the New Statesman site.

It’s useful to actually read the text as opposed to the commentary to get the ideas behind what Cameron was trying to say. There seems to have been a lot of interpretation of what he might have meant.

This was a speech in the context of fighting terrorism (thats fairly uncontroversially  ‘a good thing’).

Cameron, for example, said

It’s important to stress that terrorism is not linked exclusively to any one religion or ethnic group.

The UK still faces threats from dissident republicans.

But with the rest of the speech he wholly refers to Islam and Muslim extremists. He isn’t really broadening the debate very much apart from that one sentence.  Yes, he makes the right noises about not equating the religion of Islam with terrorism but he does seem to relate increasing extremism to a loss of identity that may be caused by more disparate communities existing side by side.

Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and the mainstream.We have failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong.We have even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run counter to our values.

So when a white person holds objectionable views – racism, for example – we rightly condemn them.But when equally unacceptable views or practices have come from someone who isn’t white, we’ve been too cautious, frankly even fearful, to stand up to them.The failure of some to confront the horrors of forced marriage the practice where some young girls are bullied and sometimes taken abroad to marry someone they don’t want to is a case in point.

This hands-off tolerance has only served to reinforce the sense that not enough is shared.All this leaves some young Muslims feeling rootless.And the search for something to belong to and believe in can lead them to this extremist ideology.

For sure, they don’t turn into terrorists overnight.

What we see is a process of radicalisation.

I know it’s a long quotation from his speech but I think it is the crucial argument that he is making.

He claims that it is the lack of an over-arching ‘British’ identity that has led to alienation and in turn, the radicalisation of a group of ‘young Muslims’.

I have a lot of problems with this assertion to be honest. I am a Londoner and I have lived for almost all my life in London– I have also lived in a country which is arguably more monocultural than the UK  (Italy) which immediately puts me in a different sphere of existence than David Cameron (Berkshire, Eton, Oxford).

Consensus is the way to create community rather than ostracisation.

Tackling inequity, racism and religious intolerance is a way to create community.

Making immigrants, no, scratch that, making EVERYONE feel that they have a stake in the community and the environment in which they live is the way to create community.

Targeting ‘a doctrine of state multiculturalism’ (the language is very negative for a start) and blaming that for ‘home-grown’ terrorists seems to be a facile argument designed to play into the increasingly dangerous ‘Daily Mail leader writer’ school of populism at the expense of any understanding of what might be happening or trying to analyse any of the issues below the surface.

Maybe it is the alienation in the mainstream communities that needs to be tackled.

I know it’s been commented on frequently but the fact that the English Defence League, an odious and divisive group set on castigating and demonstrating against Islam (no, it isn’t just ‘extremists’ as they claim) had a rally on the same day as Cameron’s speech led some of them to feel vindicated which is both sickening and irresponsible on the part of Cameron. Maybe he had no control over the timing but he could have explicitly condemned the EDL. He didn’t.

Thanks to Wikipedia, I was led to an article in the Guardian,  last year about the EDL – worth reading and reflecting on in the light of Mr Cameron’s speech.

A strangely relevant part jumped out at me

For Matthew Goodwin, an academic who specialises in far-right politics at Manchester University, this is a crucial difference between the EDL and previous far-right street movements.

“The reason why the EDL’s adoption of Islamophobia is particularly significant is that unlike the 1970s, when the National Front was embracing antisemitism, there are now sections of the media and the British establishment that are relatively sympathetic towards Islamophobia,” says Goodwin. “It is not difficult to look through the media and find quite hostile views towards Islam and Muslims. That is fundamentally different to the 1970s, when very few newspapers or politicians were endorsing the NF’s antisemitic message.”

“The point for your average voter is that if they see the EDL marching through their streets shouting about how the neighbourhood is about to be swamped by Muslims or how the UK is going to be Islamified by 2040, they are also receiving these cues from other sections of British society … the message of the EDL may well be legitimised if that continues.”

And this is Cameron’s message from his speech.

It seems odd that he is so happy to back faith schools in the context of his speech.

He can’t get away from the fact that he has targeted Islam specifically. The headlines will be filling in the gaps.

This was not a brave speech. It was a cowardly one that pandered to far more dangerous societal views. Far braver it would have been to take actions to improve the living environments of those who feel cut off from society through racism – open and institutional and by tackling poverty in the inner cities where a lot of immigrant communities live.

Far braver to openly confront and condemn the EDL. And the right-wing press that has created a dangerously high level of ‘us and them’ politics.

Maybe it is the attitudes of our society that creates the alienation rather than the embracing of different cultures, religions and backgrounds.

I notice that Cameron also said

So they (apologists for ‘multiculturalism) point to the poverty that so many Muslims live in and say: get rid of this injustice and the terrorism will end.

But this ignores that fact that many of those found guilty of terrorist offences in the UK have been graduates, and often middle class.

I think Cameron has completely forgotten that sometimes, ok, not in his sphere of existence, middle class people want to demonstrate and act against perceived and real injustices happening not just to themselves but to others less fortunate who have not had the same opportunities. And hard though it might be for Cameron to understand – you can actually grow up in poverty and be a graduate. The two things aren’t (yet) mutually exclusive.

When I lived in Italy in a society that very much promotes the mono-culture, there was far more explicit racism present than I have noticed in the UK. ‘Other’, ‘difference’ was not a positive.

It was not a better society.  People from other religious, cultural and ethnic groups were openly scorned. Look at the mainstreaming of the ‘Lega Nord’ if you want to see the dangers of moving away from open multiculturalism.

I doubt Cameron understands multiculturalism because he, his class, and the people around him have only gained their information and advice from ‘people like them’.

He castigates intolerance within Islam but does nothing to even mention or acknowledge the invidious nature of the march in Luton happening on the same day. He could easily have criticised it. He didn’t.

The richness that diversity brings to our cities and our country is not something that has a dark responsibility for terrorism.

Alienation of diverse groups may lead to extremism – I’m not a sociologist and haven’t read any significant research for a while – but increasing marginalisation by highlighting one religious group as responsible for ‘home-grown’ terrorism – while ignoring the issues such as faith schools – which he could easily challenge –  seems to be exacerbating the problem.

I love my city. I wrote previously about why I loved London. I love living and working around different communities that are able to live side by side, just as my ancestors, immigrants themselves, were accepted when they arrived.

This speech has just given a whole swathe of ‘middle England’ a chance to step on the EDL’s agenda.

It has to be challenged. Challenged hard and challenged frequently.

It is anti-racism, anti-discrimination, anti-oppression and equality of opportunity that will eradicate ‘home grown’ terrorism.

Not the elimination of multiculturalism.

Big Society Revisited

I am still having trouble understanding exactly what Cameron means by the ‘Big Society’. I am really trying. I have read up on it on it’s own website and I looked on Wikipedia (doesn’t that count as substantial research?). I attended a debate  last week at LSE (now available as a podcast and highly recommended) but just when I thought I had a grasp of the basic ideas, my thoughts take me down another path.

Liverpool Town Hall

It is about increasing the ‘civic responsibility and civic responsiveness’ of communities. It is about communities taking more control of issues that affect them. It is about volunteerism and increasing social capital.

Or it is about cuts and replacing central and local government responsibilities with people willing to take part and take action.

It can’t just be about active volunteering communities. That is not a new idea.

Perhaps it is about payment for volunteering in different forms – the Japanese idea mooted by Burstow a few months back about helping older people with some care in order to ‘bank hours’ for ones own care in the future.

But there have been forms of time banks for years where someone might offer a hour of gardening in exchange for an hour of French tuition. That isn’t ‘new’.

Is there going to be more government money to promote the rolling out of the State? No.

Is there going to be any additional time to plough into some of the ideas which form the base of the ‘Big Society’ ideal? No.

I see a potential for social work to transform into more a community based profession. We have the potential as social workers. We know the areas we work in and we have a chance to see areas and people who would benefit from both input and volunteerism. Sometimes I wish I had a more ethereal role in building community capital.

One of the roles of my work is what I would see as ‘building systems of support around people who are isolated’ so I might look at what groups exist – self-help as well as more formal day centres and lunch clubs – I look around online as well as off-line groups. Given a little more flexibility to grow and facilitate (and then withdraw, if necessary) from these groups – I can see some worth in the idea of community building.

There is not much scope or time for these roles at the moment.

Earlier this week,  Lord Nat Wei, who drives the Government’s Big Society agenda – ironically reduced the time he was able to spend on the project because he needed to spend his time, well, earning money and being with his family. On a human level that is completely understandable. I couldn’t give three days of my life up for voluntary work – it was, after all, a voluntary post.

But it is an indication of the difficulties that face the promises that have been made about the ‘Big Society’.

As discussed at the debate I attended, Big Society, is in danger due to demographics. Volunteers tend to be middle class and middle aged. There are ‘pet’ projects and charities. No doubt libraries in Surrey will do very well – but what about hostels in Brixton?

As if to emphasise this point, Liverpool, one of the ‘pilot’ areas for ‘Big Society’ pulled out yesterday with the leader of the council saying that when voluntary organisations are having their funding cut by reductions of grants to the council from central government, he is in no position to roll out the programme.

That leaves the pilot in a difficult and untenable place in my view. Liverpool was the ‘test site’ in a poorer, urban area. The other ‘test sites’ are

Eden in Cumbria – which by no means ‘richer’, is a large rural district. Arguably communities in small rural villages will be naturally more cohesive by the nature of geography.  Now, last week, the MP who represents Eden was present at the debate – Rory Stewart. He was an engaging speaker but he seemed very focused on the rights of residents to have more control over planning applications and the building of affordable housing (a key issue in rural areas). Fine. That’s all well and good but it sounded as if these projects were run by the voices that shouted the loudest. That is my concern about the way the projects and the ‘Big Society’ will pan out.

Sutton in London is another test site for the Big Society. Sutton covers leafy suburban areas and the borders between London and Surrey. Sutton is focuses on citizens ‘having a say’ about transport in the borough. Hm. I wonder how that fits with bus services being cut throughout the country. See, we can’t quite get away from the cuts agenda. Sutton fits perfectly into the ‘middle aged middle class’ band of ‘volunteers’ who might have time to attend meetings about which bus service might go where.

In fact, as the website says

Sutton is one of only four local authorities announced as ‘Big Society Communities’ because it’s regarded as having one of the country’s most vibrant communities with a very active voluntary sector, plus a track record of devolving power to our neighbourhoods.

In other words, lets just do what we were doing anyway and call it ‘Big Society’. That’s one way of guaranteeing success, Cameron.

And the last ‘test site’ after the withdrawal of Liverpool?

The Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead. Ah, maybe the Queen – an erstwhile resident of the aforementioned borough – wanted a go at ‘Big Society’. Hardly a representative area on income bases and types of community though.

Well, she could certainly pump some additional money in her own local community.

Boys from Eton visiting elderly widows to ‘take tea’. Yes, that might be it.

No, I have it wrong, Big Society isn’t just about volunteering – it is about community groups taking collective action. But it does seem to fall into the ‘middle aged middle class’ demographic again where it is expected that people will have more leisure time to devote to community building.

Reading through the proposals for the Royal Borough, I see some worthy suggestions about residents having greater influence on budgetary decisions and ‘adopting a street, park or library’. See, libraries again. Who is going to adopt the libraries in Toxteth though?

Which brings me to Liverpool. The only ‘test area’ that I personally felt gave the pilot some credibility. The other areas are overwhelmingly mono-cultural. I had to check my figures there regarding Sutton – as a London Borough, but I maintain my position as I found that

the proportion of BME residents living in LB Sutton, at 15.2%, is
significantly lower than for the South West London Sub-Region (27.0%) and for London (33.6 %).

So while the government can point to a pilot project ‘in London’ – Sutton is hardly representative of London or the communities that live therein.

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So maybe I have the Big Society all wrong. Maybe it isn’t about increasing volunteerism per se, as much as increasing participation. The problem is that whichever it is both participation and volunteerism need leisure time and in order for people to engage they need to feel engaged and that this idea – these ideas are ‘for them’.

I don’t want to dismiss all the ideas behind community building and grass-roots activism but this is nothing new and unfortunately the ‘Big Society’ label rests too heavily in the lap of this Conservative led government.

Liverpool was the chance for me to be proved wrong. How things worked in Liverpool would have more relevance to me and the communities I live and work in than how things worked in Sutton.

So the withdrawal of Liverpool from the project is very significant. Much more than the tittering about Lord Nat Wei’s ironic inability to have time to devote to the project.

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I want live in communities that are actively engaged but then, you see, I think I already do. I don’t want to ‘take over’ my local library. It runs very well with professional library staff. As for planning permission – well, everything around here is built up to the max so there aren’t many decisions to be made.

For me, if I were let loose on the project it would be one about increasing social capital and engagement but working in different ways and using social networking but not only that because that would exclude those who don’t have the same access to computer services.

But for now, I see Big Society as pleasing those who shout the loudest. Everyone else and anyone with any issue that might impede their own motivation or participation – be that a disability, a mental illness, a frailty, a lack of time, an alienation from the ‘mainstream’, a language barrier, a cultural barrier – is at risk of being swept along by the wishes of the loudest rather than the majority.

At least local authorities have some kind of democratic mandate regarding the decisions they make. Groups of communities may have no such responsibility.

Just to finish with a quote from Nat Wei’s blog. He says

I have also recently been working on online and other tools to help establish a community of activists who can champion and help create Big Society where they live. More on this will follow in the coming months

And a word to Nat Wei. Isn’t that by definition, ‘top down’.

Where is this community online?

Someone in the comments mentioned that it is a closed site to invitees.

Surely the ideas could be open to a broader forum of any interested party so that concerns and yes, ideas, can be moved beyond those who work in policy planning or are directors of voluntary organisations. Where do I, or those like me, who have been working in communities for years, go with our ideas?

Maybe the Big Society is an opportunity to fragment. Maybe we find our own spaces in the virtual worlds to play out or ideas. Maybe the concept of the Big Society can be linked to the networked world we live in where trying to impose from above will always be doomed to failure.

Maybe, just maybe, we are seeing the Big Society in Egypt.

It uses twitter to network and build alliances and share ideas and it won’t be owned by the government.

Maybe it is grass roots activism which needs to take on the models of a new media but remain inclusive to those who lack access across the digital divide.

The sad thing is that I see a massive role for social work in building a more engaged society, just as the government seem set on destroying it and removing the bases and protections on which our civilised society has stood.