I have to say I was more than a little underwhelmed by Barnet Council’s proposals to go all ‘budget airline’ with the local government and an issue was made for them to charge for extras – probably more Ryanair style than easyJet style if you want to start nit-picking – not as snappy though for the headline writers. Probably goes to show how everyone follows press releases.

Most of it went over my head save for a couple of things – firstly the reporting that the council as one of their ‘policies’ was

recipients of adult social care in Barnet will choose to spend a limited budget on whether to have a cleaner or a respite carer or even a holiday to Eastbourne

Now maybe I’ve misunderstood (which is by no means impossible) but that is what ALL councils will be obliged to do before long when the individualised budgets and personalisation agenda takes off. There is nothing particularly ground-breaking about that – but well done, Barnet, as most of the press seem to have picked up on it.

The rest of the article talks of bin collection and planning permission but the Local Government Chronicle reports that they are also closing their Welfare Rights Unit.

According to a report due to be discussed at a cabinet meeting on 1 September, closing the unit will meet the council’s corporate objectives of “deploying the local authority’s resources as flexibly and efficiently as possible”.

The unit costs around £230,000 a year to run and consists of six staff who advise hundreds of children with disabilities and residents with mental health or community care needs each year on what benefits are available to them.

According to the report, an analysis last year suggested the unit generated £1.6m in benefits to local people’s income.

A risk assessment of the proposals conceded they risked leaving vulnerable residents to fall into poverty.

Nice way of saving, Barnet. I’m sure the constituent voters in what is one of the most affluent boroughs of London, are very appreciative.

Barnet, being a solidly Conservative borough, has always been keen on outsourcing and with this thought, there will be voluntary organisations who may be able to pick up the slack – my own experience of Welfare Rights Teams in my own council though, is that they have been extremely effective – particularly when we have referred people who are ultimately some of the most vulnerable, namely those who do need a home-visiting service.

Not being someone who needs planning permission desperately, this was the only proposal I could see and it doesn’t necessarily reek of any different kind of government as the headlines seem to indicate. Maybe I’m missing something really obvious but I see nothing related to budget airlines about differently tiered pricing – except it seems to have garnered a large number of headlines.

I worry though about the divisions being made between ‘those who need’ and ‘those who don’t need’ – and more the differences in support and services received based on postcodes once again. It makes somewhat worrying reading if there is to be more discretion at a local authority level about services provided by social care departments.

Time to see how it might work though, as a model, I have to say though, I’m rather glad of a bulkier local government model that at least provides some protection and support to some of the most vulnerable citizens.

Not everyone wants to use budget airlines all the time.

image preshaa at flickr

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In defence of the NHS


I have been remarkably short-sighted in terms of my posting and usually concentrate matters around the very local area where I live and work but a post on Trench Warfare and an article in The Guardian turned my attention to the arguments that are raging in the US against a universal healthcare system.

Of course, there is no perfect system where everyone regardless of income and ability to pay gets exactly what they want when they want in the manner they want but for all my grumbling and griping, I can’t conceive of a situation where the NHS or the need for an equivalent type body is seen as a bad thing as opposed to the current US system of bloated insurance payments which are, as I can see, almost artificially inflated to boast profits all around and still leave a large section of the population without the right to a minimum standard of free healthcare.


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I may be biased and so be it. I have to say that although I have been fortunate to enjoy good health, I can reach out for many family members and friends who, in through some of the most troublesome times, have received beyond exceptional and in one case, ground-breaking care with no charge incurred whatsoever, no worry about premiums or employment status, no question that the procedures that need to happen would happen when they needed it and at the hospital of choice.

The British hold the NHS dear for a very good reason – we all have a constant interaction and even the healthiest of us have had some kind of contact with it. Knowing that when a patient is discharged from the hospital which I work in, never has to pay or worrying about paying for a prescription or at the very least, when a prescription charge is incurred, there is a capped charge that is nowhere near the cost of the medication.

Knowing that I will never be in the position of having to make a decision about health care based on cost alone is most resolutely a place I want to be and a service I am proud to work in and with.

A part of me thinks, let them argue it out and fill the propaganda channels with specific examples rather than the millions of people who have had exceptional treatment and continue to do so. But then I remember that it is those who are most in need of the change who are likely to have the quieter voices.

The statistics can speak better than the facts though and although as I say, the system can be perfected although most of my complaints about the NHS revolve around moves towards more privatisation rather than fear of a socialised system. But then, I’m perfectly happy with the word ‘socialism’ and it doesn’t scare me and if that means that all citizens are entitled to the same level of medical treatment based on their need which is free at the point of delivery – I’ll  happily accept the charge.

I don’t feel that my choice is stifled and if at any point, I want to take out health insurance to access private healthcare, I am still able to do that, as a friend who worked in a private hospital for a while once told me, it was probably ok for minor things but she would never use private health care for any major medical issues.

Although it would be easy to shrug our shoulders, accept the criticism however ill-informed and say ‘you get the healthcare system you deserve’ it would be completely ignoring the fact that those making the arguments and pumping the propaganda  probably have completely comprehensive healthcare plans themselves which no doubt allow them access to the best systems in the world.

It is, as is common, the disenfranchised, the minority ethnic populations, those with the lowest incomes who have access to the.. less good.. services that will suffer. The winners will likely be those who can fund the most adverts and pay the best lobbyists.

Schizophrenia – on film

Time to Change, the campaign being run by a partnership of mental health charity, which is working towards challenging stigma which is faced by people with mental illnesses, is today launching a couple of films which are intended to work on some of the prejudices and preconceptions held.

The videos can be seen on the Time to Change website and are also going to be available on various other websites to be, according to the BBC, played in cinemas later in the year.

image atomicjeep at Flickr

Challenging some of the preconceptions that surround mental illness is certainly a positive as the preconceptions are invariably negative. I doubt there will be much measured effect but if it makes it easier for people to speak about mental illness and for the distress to be recognised, that can only be a good thing.

The BBC quotes a Yougov survey that indicates a third of people questioned thought that people suffering from schizophrenia were violent. It’s unsurprising and in some ways, I’m surprised it isn’t a higher figure.

The films will help I imagine, but the real stigma needs to be fought in some of the media reporting which tends to define people by their mental illnesses because it is an ‘easier’ explanation rather than display any kind of sensitivities or understanding of other factors that might come into play.

The actor in the films, Stuart Baker-Brow, has himself been diagnosed with schizophrenia and is quoted as saying he wanted to be involved in the filming in order to allay some of the assumptions and stigma that he faces, as he says to the BBC

“Helping to make the film has been part of a journey to take control of my life,” he said.

“Rather than giving up I made a decision to change my life, which was borne out of a necessity to prove not only to myself and to all those around me, that a good level of both physical and mental recovery from schizophrenia is possible.”

I don’t doubt that having these films is better than not having them. I hope they will make some difference, but there is probably a deeper level of understanding that needs to be reached for a difference truly to be made.