Attitudes to Disability

Yesterday, the BBC published a survey commissioned from ComRes to mark the 40th anniversary of the ‘Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970’ which was the first piece of legislation that recognised ‘disability’

It is hard to imagine that it was only forty years ago. Even harder when you realise (as I hadn’t actually known before yesterday – possibly I shouldn’t admit to that considering how much time I have spent studying social care legislation) that it was actually a Private Member’s Bill introduced by Alf Morris (now Lord Morris). It was the first legislation in the world to give rights to people with disabilities and Morris became the first designated Minister for Disabled People in the world. And it was pushed through as a Private Members’ Bill.
Lord Morris of Manchester, who was responsible for the passage of the legislation in Parliament

Reading his words, from an article he wrote in the Yorkshire Post last year, gain an added poignancy in the light of both the survey and the general current political climate. He says

“If we could bequeath one precious gift to posterity, I would choose a society in which there is genuine compassion for long-term sick and disabled people; where understanding is unostentatious and sincere; where needs come before means; where if years cannot be added to their lives, at least life can be added to their years; where the mobility of disabled people is restricted only by the bounds of technical progress and discovery; where they have the fundamental right to participate in industry and society according to ability; where socially preventable distress is unknown; and where no one has cause to be ill at ease because of his or her disability.”

It is important to remember that the equality legislation and general societal attitudes today were achieved by those with vision and passion on whose shoulders the government now stands.

Anyway, back to the survey –

The headline figure is that 90% of people polled believe that people with disabilities should be provided with ‘necessary funds’ to make workplaces accessible.  That’s a nice, comfortable figure. I have to say I do wonder about what the other 10% think though..

More concerning, to me at least, is that 40% polled believe that people with disabilities turn down jobs that they may be physically capable of doing. The question asked being

‘People with disabilities often seem reluctant to work even if they are capable of doing a job’.

That is a very high ‘agree’ figure in my mind. This is what the government want us to believe and have constantly pumped this rhetoric out to the grateful right-wing press.

Another interesting statistic is that 27% of people polled believe that

‘Government legislation to give disabled people access to work and independent living has gone too far’.

That surprised me. There is no such thing as complacency and patting ourselves collectively on the back for shifting social perceptions of disability.

Disability is and can be all of us. Our parents, our children, our friends and our colleagues. It is not ‘the other’ and can never be assumed to be. We all have a responsibility to providing that society that Morris spoke about where there is a genuine compassion where needs come before means. I fear we may be losing sight of that in the cuts rhetoric and the rolling back of services that encourage us to think about personal needs and gains rather than those of society as a whole.

I am mindful that some of the negative assumptions about disability exist because there are ‘invisible’ disabilities, particularly in mental health areas.

I used to work in a residential care home for adults with learning disabilities. We had a disabled badge on the car for the residents. The amount of times that staff were challenged by people who thought they weren’t ‘really disabled’ and didn’t ‘need the disabled parking space’ was almost comical. It was as if members of the general public needed to ‘see’ disability in order for the badge to be ‘justified’. That’s a very small, very silly example but without acknowledging and accepting that disability is broad and most often not visible, we can’t create the kind of society that Morris described so well.

As for ‘Big Society’ – we can’t create a better way of working inclusively without tackling prejudice, assumption and ignorance about what is and is not achievable and what can and should be done to help others living in our society with us. For me, the collective will seems a lot further away than it did before the election.

A Vision for Adult Care – a few brief thoughts

I’ve only just had a chance to read the ‘Vision for Adult Care’ published yesterday and wanted to offer a view very initial thoughts although I haven’t any doubt that it will be referred to continually for many years to come.

Having read it my initial response was a little underwhelmed. I don’t know what I was expecting. Perhaps that was just it really, we knew exactly what to expect. There wasn’t anything in there that should surprise anyone at all.

We know that there needs and will be a genuine desire to push the personalisation agenda and move towards personal budgets where service users and carers have greater control over the budgets that they are assessed to need with services rather than directly provided and commissioned services being chosen ‘on their behalf’.

I have always attempted to care plan with rather than for people. That has been the policy for about 20 years arguably since the 1990 NHS and Community Care Act. What stymied the ‘choice’ element back then was the realisation that services have costs attached and ‘block contracts’ are cheaper and provide more services are cheaper costs to the councils. My understanding is that block contracted care with little choice in the provider was never the goal of the reform to legislation 20 years ago. That was supposed to, and did, open up the ‘social care’ market. It has just led us down this prescriptive path because the prescriptive path was cheaper than the choice and user-led path.

That should be the lesson for the government of the day – but enough with my cynicism.

I can wholly embrace the desire to move everyone to personal budgets and moreover, I absolutely welcome and appreciate the acknowledgement that having a personal budget is not the same as having a direct payment.

The language of social care seems almost designed in some ways to alienate and obfuscate so I apologise in my use of jargon.

Managed personal budgets seem to be a way that some local authorities have ‘dodged the issue’ of blocks to direct payments or when people have been reluctant/unwilling to move to direct payments. The government seems to have made, at least an attempt to understand this.

As the document says

We want people to have the freedomm to choose the services that are right for them from a vibrant plural market. That is why this vision challenges councils to provide personal budgets, preferably as direct payments to everyone eligible within social care within the next two years’

That ‘preferably’ offers the councils some get out within the target of ‘two years’ but it will be interesting to see what outcome measures (because there will be new outcome measures) are going to be taken up in my council, at least and what kinds of pressures and supports will be rolled out for that broader ‘direct payments’ issue.

I wonder how many people accept and understand that these ‘direct payments’ and ‘personal budgets’ are all means-tested and can all be charged. I mention that because sometimes in the press there doesn’t seem a complete appreciation of that. I say that as someone who has recently assisted to set up a direct payment personal budget to someone who is paying full cost. He is paying as much as he is getting back. Sounds nonsensical? Not really, because this way he is able to ‘buy’ into the support package and information that is given in the same way it is to those who don’t pay for their own support. Apparently, according to the government though, we don’t provide the same levels of support for full cost users, that is also rolled out as a goal for the future. I wholeheartedly welcome that. Access to support, information and care planning should and will be a universal service. I’ve always believed it is inherently unfair that people who are charged full-cost have sometimes been denied that support – indeed, I have personally provided it and argued successfully with my managers that I should wherever it has been possible but I am aware that too often the local authority has washed it’s hands of anything that it does not have a direct responsibility for – mostly due to cost rather than callousness. But back to the ‘vision’..

The paper sets out a number of principles


‘empowered people and strong communities will work together to maintain independence’

Wonderful. No-one can deny statements like that. The vision specifically explains (quite rightly) that early intervention promotes better outcomes (and lower costs) in the longer term. This is what we have been saying for years – as the eligibility criteria have increasingly tightened. Therein lies the so-called rub. The way the ‘vision’ ducks this is by emphasising community support and action alongside paid care services. The ‘Big Society approach to social care’. Gulp. I honestly still find it difficult to understand ‘big society’. Does it mean more people doing voluntary and community work? I am sceptical even though I don’t want to be. My concern is that it means a greater pressure on family and friends as carers.  The vision mentions the ‘scheme’ in Japan where families ‘swap’ care responsibilities in different areas of the country. I worry that too great a reliance on informal and ‘free’ support will lead to un inequitable access to equivalent services for people that don’t have large support networks or live in supportive communities. Time Banks are also suggested as a way of providing support which is good, I like the idea but too great a reliance on hours given willingly may not be the best safety net.

I absolutely agree that commissioning needs to be closer to the ground. I see some of the craziest commissioning decisions being made and can’t believe anyone in those service areas have any clue about what  the local community needs or wants.

The vision does state clearly that ‘Carers are the first line of prevention’. Good. And it goes on to explain ‘Councils should recognise the value of offering a range of personalised support for carers to help prevent the escalation of needs that fall on statutory services’.

I have set up a lot of carers’ direct payments myself and have a few carers who manage them. In some ways, it is very easy to ‘sell’ direct payments to carers as there is a much greater degree of flexibility but there is actually very little money allocated to carers’ direct payments presently. I hope this ‘vision’ and appreciation of the longer term saving that carers are contributing that we will be able to offer them more money through direct payments themselves. Carers Allowance is some kind of evil joke that is, in my view, insulting. Carers Direct Payments potentially can ‘make up’ for it but the local authorities have to loosen the poor upper limits on the carers’ direct payments.

We are promised a forthcoming carers’ strategy. I await it will much interest.

Telecare and technology is also mentioned. We have been promoting this for a few years. It can be very successful but it cannot replace human contact.


I’ve mentioned this above and am very glad that the document acknowledges that ‘A personal budget alone does not in itself mean that services are automatically personalised’. In some ways, that has been my cry in what I thought was the dark. The document mentions the areas that have been slow to pick up in the roll out of direct payments, namely older adults, adults with mental health problems, adults with learning disabilities and adults who lack capacity.  Regarding one of the ideas for managing direct payments for people who lack capacity, one of the suggested ‘solutions’ is placing the control of the budget in the hands of ‘another suitable person’. Interesting. I wonder what this means – informal care and support, a trust fund type project, a professional. All have potential costs and as the criteria for eligibility tighten, the money itself will be less. Higher quality care and m0re choice with less money. Sounds perfect.

There aren’t really any solutions offered but at least acknowledging some of the difficulties is a start.

Interestingly, there is a line about increasing choice to people living in residential care which is a fantastic idea. I am very curious and excited to see how this might happen in practice.

Again, the examples offered in the Vision relate to people that have capacity, support and ideas.

There also seemed to be a suggestion that the IMCA (Indepedent Mental Capacity Advocate) role might be broadened. This is a joy to my cynical self. I  have worked extensively with our local IMCA service and I couldn’t praise them highly enough. I really really hope we can use them more but they will need to be paid.

Plurality and Partnership

The vision emphasises an idealised support ‘partnership’ between individuals, communities, voluntary sector, private sector, NHS and local councils. Probably in that order of preference.

We are told the aim is ‘a broad market of high quality service providers’. Absolutely fantastic. This is my vision for social care as well. I am just a little cynical about the high quality=low cost possibilities but I am willing to be proved wrong, indeed, nothing in the world would make me happier. I want to be able to advise and promote high quality care from many different providers. But that was what we were promised 20 years ago.  The vision promotes a move away from the ‘block contracts’, again, personally, I feel in general they have been negative and have limited choice but there has to be an acknowledgement that they grew out of a necessity to reduce costs.


Safeguarding concerns have often been raised about the roll out of direct payments and a potentially larger, unregulated workforce of Personal Assistants as well as issues regarding management of finances.

The vision seems to have a great deal of faith in CQC (Care Quality Commission) to inspect services where safeguarding concerns have been raised. Anyone else notice the slight problem here? That’s a bit like closing the door after the horse has bolted – I apologise for the cliche.

There is also the suggestion of a type of ‘neighbourhood watch’ scheme for people in communities to ‘report’ and ‘look out for’ people who might be being subject to abuse. Honestly, I hope this is happening anyway. Fine, it doesn’t do any harm but it doesn’t replace a strong safeguarding structure and culture. I noted there is a particular statement that

‘Local government should act as the champion of safeguarding within communities’ which suggests  that whatever the new ‘practices’ outside the local authorities will do, it won’t be safeguarding. There is a consideration to put this function on a statutory basis. Please, please, yes, yes. Vulnerable adults need the same protections as vulnerable children. This is long overdue and a real failing of the current safeguarding system that at times feels too toothless. It is very hard to get police involved sometimes where I can’t imagine there would be the same difficulties if we were talking about children rather than adults.


The vision goes into greater detail about the financial package the local authorities and social care has been ‘gifted’. So be it. It is unprotected money and we all have doubts as to whether it will be enough but noone is getting any money at the moment. There is a focus on efficiency savings.

One of the elements that made me happiest actually is hidden towards the back of the document where it states that ‘The Department of Health will amend the ‘Payment by Results’ tariff from April 2012 so that the NHS pays for reablement and other post-discharge services for 30 days after a patient leaves hospital. From next April, Trusts will not be reimbursed for unnecessary readmissions to hospital’.

Hopefully, this will mean that discharge planning is more coherent and less rushed with the Trusts knowing there will be cost implications of readmission if they ‘get it wrong’. Good.

On the other hand, the vision wants councils to rip apart any remaining in-house services. I understand their point that this is potentially narrowing choice but often, certainly everywhere I have worked, it has been the best quality service when compared with private sector care services. This makes me sad. Goodbye, in-house support. I miss you before you have even gone.


And so we move to the social care workforce. Sigh. Yes, the government say ‘care workers, nurses, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and social workers, along with carers and the people who use the services’ and you get the impression they put the list in order to importance in their own minds’ eye.

The vision explains that

‘New and continuing professional roles will be developed for front-line social workers, occupational therapists, nurses and others’.

And then goes on to explain the problems there are with sickness and absence in the sector. I wonder if all the reconfigurations have been an issue about increased stress and uncertainty, never mind. I’m sure the government hadn’t considered that.

Interestingly there is mention of working with Munro’s review of children’s services in social work to allow social workers to have more ‘decision-making authority’. Huh? I thought the decision-making was to lie with the service users.

I am thrilled that there seems to be a linking of social work with community development. Seriously. I think this is absolutely the best area for adult social work to place itself and I am genuinely excited to think there could be a role for social workers in community-based growth. However, the skills sets may not quite be there and there will need to be some additional support given at first.

Generally, it’s a mixed bag that tells about lots of hope and plans as expected in a vision. There isn’t much suggestion or explanation yet but that will come with time. Some elements are clearer, some even foggier than they were before and my brief thoughts have been less brief than I imagined.

I find it very hard not to be cynical and I find it very hard to trust this government to be honest. There seems to be a worryingly high dependence on ‘free’ care provided by family and community and no explanation of where the support will come from when these community supports don’t exist.

But I do want the system to be better. I want everyone to receive a better service, not just those who are able to actively engage with the process of receiving a direct payment and I want the changes to work. I don’t care much for the government but I do care desperately for the sector.

A vision is nothing more than a promise until it delivers though. I want the central government, a government without  a mandate, to deliver on outcomes and promises as well as local government officers.

And with that, I sign off the longest post I have ever written for this blog – thanks for staying till the end (if you did). It terrifies me that the word count for one post I wrote in 40 mins is the same as the word count for the essay (currently taking a PQ module) that has taken me about 4 weeks to write… .. . . .

First they came for the Taxi-cards..

I’m aware of the parochial nature of some of my writing. I am predominantly UK centric and generally make no apology for that which is reflected in  my audience. Today, I’m going to be particularly London-centric.

The story came to me from Twitter having completely failed to reach my notice through any other means. I’m not the most avid consumer of local media, to be honest. Occasionally, I read the Metro or the Standard but not regularly but I do tend to watch the early evening local news bulletins, just because it follows the national news. This story may well have flown straight over my head. A lesson in the usefulness of Twitter. It isn’t all about what people had for lunch and I’d urge more people to give it a go – but back to the story in hand..

Black Cab, London

Transport for all, reports that major changes (read cuts) have been voted through to the taxi-card scheme in London.

The taxi-card scheme allows those people who are unable to use public transport, to access subsidised transport by cab.

These cuts then, more than anything should be a real cause of concern regarding transport options for older people and disabled adults as it is going to have a significant effect on the people in the area that I work in and the community that I live in.

As Transport for All reports

At a meeting of the London Council’s Transport and Environment Executive Committee the following cuts and changes were voted through:

  • Increasing the minimum customer contribution to from £1.50 to £2.50
  • Reducing the maximum subsidy by £1.00 per trip
  • Ending double swiping
  • Levelling down trip limits to 104 per year in 2011/12 (one return journey a week) – A decrease in many boroughs

The effect of the reduction in funding will be different in different boroughs – they work in slightly separate ways at the moment –  but as we can see more broadly, localism in this government’s eyes seems to be all about deciding which ways to cut and whom to hurt the most.

As the site says, the ending of double swiping is going to be a particular concern. Taxi-cards have a limit of about 3/4 miles and if you want to travel further in London, ‘double-swiping’ occurs where two journeys are taken and charged for, to double the distance allowed.

Now, almost all the people I know who have taxi-cards, use them primarily for medical appointments or to get to day services (you know, the ones that have had their transport costs cut), so potentially this is going to add additional costs both to those who rely heavily on these services and potentially those who can afford it least. It may lead to further social isolation but perhaps the most invidious part of this cut is that we can see that it has been sharp and injudicious, targeting those who are unable to access public transport (that’s the criteria for getting a taxi-card) and the government’s mantra of ‘We are all in this together’ becomes ever more hollow.

The increasing of the contribution from £1.50 to £2.50 may not sound like a lot but it is to people with limited fixed incomes.

I refer a lot of people to the taxi-card scheme. We recommend it especially as our own departments’ transport costs have been slashed.

But it was flexible and it allows greater independence from ‘group transport’ for people who are unable to use public transport.

If changes need to be made, so be it, but this has been done without consultation and without thought to any of the repercussions of the potential effects. Perhaps if there had been some analysis of the ways in which taxi-cards are used, it would be seen as a saving to be made by providing this service, rather than as a cost to bear.

As Faryal Velmi, the Director of Transport for All, says on their website

These changes were rushed through with no opportunity for Taxicard users to have their say.

“In a context of unprecedented cuts in public sector spending that will cut disabled people’s jobs, access to vital services and social care, housing, and income from benefits, these cuts and fare increases to Taxicard will mean greater poverty for thousands of disabled and elderly people who already have to survive on low incomes. For some it could lead to greater isloation and becoming housebound“.

“More time is needed to carry out a full consultation and come up with a fairer way of funding Taxicard across London – making sure all boroughs contribute their fair share and that TfL funding towards the scheme is distributed equitably.”

“A disabled and older residents prepare for Christmas, we urge councillors to not play Scrooge with such a vital lifeline service – let’s have more time to discuss how Taxicard can be funded.”

Unfortunately, I fear it is too late now. Had I known it was on the cards, so to speak, I would have actively campaigned against it and I know most working alongside me would as well. We see the day to day differences that these initiatives make on peoples’ lives and for me, it is indicative of the haphazard ways that the cuts are being made. Slash and burn with no thought to future potential need or the value of quality of life.

I understand that cuts need to be made, but surely there should have been some kind of consultation process? This is a tiny battle and perhaps not the most significant in broad terms but I think it is indicative of the way that some of the cuts will be made in the future and if they don’t directly affect us, we may never know.

Three Strikes

Iain Duncan Smith-Nightingale House-March 2010

Image via Wikipedia

Over the weekend, I was listening to This Week in Westminster and I was curiously concerned by Conservative MP, Nick Boles who appeared on the programme, assertion that no-one would be affected by the ‘third strike’ of the ‘three strikes’ benefit sanctions to hit those who refused jobs that were offered because, and I’m not quoting verbatim but something along the lines of no-one in their right mind would turn down three jobs that were offered to them if they didn’t have support either by their own financial means or a partner supporting them.

Sanctioning the workless to three years without benefits for turning down three jobs was something so far out of his own concept for comprehension that he didn’t and couldn’t address the question of ‘what happens when a family have no means to support themselves because they are subject to these sanctions?’.

For me, this was a concern. Of course people who don’t work and are offered jobs and can work, should – but there are so many variables and subtleties that this seems like either a gross oversimplification or we haven’t seen (and the coalition haven’t shared with their own MPs) the complex contingencies that will be in place to prevent child poverty growing as a direct result of these sanctions.

The ‘three strikes’ goes something along the lines of if you turn down one job, benefit is withheld for three months, two jobs increases this to six months and after the third offer, the sanction is for three years.

Iain Duncan-Smith confirmed yesterday that this will apply to parents equally and having children will not stop these measures being taken.

Again, everyone wants to work  but I think we really need to examine who makes these judgements and the governments assertion that this will not be a discretionary role and that everyone will be subject to the same guidelines. The fact that there is no room for discretion worries me. What counts as a ‘refusal’ to work? This is all the more crucial as the move from Incapacity Benefit to Employment and Support Allowance continues on apace and there are many well-documented cases of poor decisions being made by the ESA – evidenced by the  high rate of successful appeals against their rulings (the BBC quotes a 40% successful appeal rate)  about who is and who is not ‘fit’ for work.

There are many details about what counts as an ‘offer of employment’ that need to be resolved and how much choice anyone will get about the area that they might wish to be working in or whether that will have any relevance. Apart from these details, my concern is that it will be children who will suffer as a result of potentially living in households where there is no legal income.

My fleeting experience of working with benefits in general is that often the most vulnerable and voiceless are terrified out of claiming what they may be entitled to and people who ‘defraud ‘the system’’ know exactly what and how to claim. The measures to prevent families being driven into poverty need to be clear and there needs to be an examination of the potential effect that these policies will have on children and people with disabilities and ill-health, whether those categories are accepted by ATOS or not.

(Incidently,  if you go to the ATOS link, you see at the bottom a list of numbers with the request ‘Please do not give these numbers to patients – if that doesn’t tell you a lot about accessibility and also stupidity (seriously – they put that document on a website and then tell ‘practitioners’ not to give it to patient) then I don’t know what is).

Aung San Suu Kyi

Interview with Aung San Suu Kyi

Image via Wikipedia

A quick post to mark the fantastic news about the release of Aung San Suu Kyi. As the former (and likely future) leader of the National League for Democracy in Burma/Myanmar, she has been the face of democracy and the fight for freedom there over a period of decades.

She was first detained in 1989 although there have been periods of release since then, they have been brief and restricted. Since then her husband has died and she has not seen her sons for 10 years. It is reported  in the Guardian that her youngest son was just this week refused a visa to travel to Burma from his base in Bangkok.  She has grandchildren she has never seen. That’s the human level of sacrifice she has been subject to for her cause.

On a national and international level, she has become a symbol for peaceful demonstration but it is worth remembering the thousands of other political prisoners in Burma and the precarious situation that she has been released into with Burma still governed by a military dictatorship.

We owe it to her and the people of Burma to temper our celebration with a close eye on the current situation and push both for other prisoners and also any changes in the terms of her release. Indeed, the Observer’s leader explains that in contrast with Mandela’s release, she is freed into a state that is determined to continue with it’s grip on power and does not, as South Africa did, accept the death or dying of the regime that caused the imprisonment.

On a personal level, of all the causes that my father passionately held on to, the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi was one of his most determined. Her imprisonment and situation was one that troubled and angered him immensely. He joined campaigns and marches for as long as he could.

I couldn’t help  but think of him over this weekend and think how happy it would have made him to have seen her waving from outside her home to a crowd. But we need to remember this was a freedom granted at the whim of a military dictatorship not through international pressure and campaigns so we can’t take our eyes of the situation.  I can almost hear him whispering in my ear to urge us not to give up the fight for freedom and democracy in Burma.

Sinful Wastrels

Unemployed man looking for a job in 1928

Image via Wikipedia

I haven’t had time to read through the White Paper on Welfare Reform called Universal Credit : Welfare that Works yet. I finished work late last night and went to bed almost embarrassingly early. Hopefully, I’ll have a chance to look at the details over the weekend.

In the meantime, just a couple of generalised thoughts. I strongly object to a politician using language like ‘sinful’ in reference to social (or any kind of) policy. We may have an established church but I have no time whatsoever for the drawing on religious language. To say it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth is an understatement.

This government is frighteningly making more and  more moral judgements on people with whom they disagree. Perhaps it is a display of guilt about their overt targeting of those who are jobless.

While I understand the general narrative that there is an ‘underclass of scroungers’ I also challenge it. I turn to my constructionist theories and look at what has actually created this so-called ‘underclass’. It is about the structures and choices that have been left open for people, the lack of a coherent and progressive social policy and the poverty of opportunity rather than pure laziness.

I do not believe the human condition is inherently ‘lazy’. Nor is it a class-based attribute yet we are increasingly seeing these issues tied together. What leads to a lack of desire to work? Perhaps the way that society views certain types of jobs like ‘care work’ which should be the most highly admired  but is relegated to a ‘poor status and poor pay’ profession and the perceptions and opportunities of promotion are poor.

Moving back to social work briefly, I’ve mentioned this many times but my route into social work came initially through voluntary work with adults with disabilities which then turned into (as I used the experience I had gained through CSV) paid work as a care assistant. I think there could be a clearer career path identified for care assistants (those who want to, of course) to grow professionally into social work degrees  but often the people who take these roles are encouraged to have lower aspirations where actually moving sideways into a professional role would create a more secure base to work from in the future.

By humiliating and castigating people for whom there are no jobs, we are potentially creating a greater problem for future generations and a perpetual underclass.

Like a lot of these ‘cuts’ on the agenda, there seems to be little long term planning behind them.

A reform in the benefits system needs to come, of course it does,  but it should not be seen as a cost-saving exercise. It should be accompanied, perhaps on a cost-neutral basis on a systemic restructuring of the way the society operates and puts much more of the focus on improving access to equal educational opportunities. The changes in the university tuition fees could be tied into this.

The nefarious political and moral drive behind the welfare reforms have been seen for what they are. They are a bunch of over-privileged millionaires dictating morality to people who survive on the scraps that the state throws them. When they deign to be more selective in their search for employment, they are penalised heavily or forced into ‘community work’ as ‘volunteers’ where the large companies will, no doubt, benefit.

Four weeks of unpaid forced ‘work’ is not enough to create a ‘work ethos’.  It is more of a ‘workhouse ethos’. Nothing wrong with voluntary work – for me it was the route into work and into a profession that I love but that was because I wanted to do it and I needed to do it. Of course people should be inherently wanting to work but I don’t believe that people don’t want to – it is just about fitting the type of work to the person and punishing people in a time of high unemployment for not working. There need to be changes that work on the expectations and the equal or rather, more equal access to opportunities alongside changes in the welfare systems.

Yes, the money is running out. Yes, there need to be cuts. But unemployment benefit or rather jobseekers allowance should be about encouraging rather than penalising and stigmatising. The problem is that by creating a negative narrative around people who are unemployed and broadening that out, as the government are, and have done to people who are unwell (on ESA) and disabled by labelling people are ‘lazy scroungers’ the government is actively creating a more isolated section of society for the readers of the Daily Mail to scoff at. Until they lose their own jobs. Or are cursed with ill health such that they are not able to work.

I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong in wanting to reform the benefit system but encouragement to work has to be more whole-hearted and resting the blame of a recession on those who lose their own jobs seems to me, more ‘sinful’ than turning down a job that isn’t suited to a particular unemployed individual’s skill set.

But as an agnostic , I’m particularly poorly placed to make a judgement on sin. I don’t want my government to do it for me.

The Evacuee

I have a poppy. I get one every year. Sometimes I get more than one because I tend to lose them or actually, they often fall off during the week before Remembrance Sunday. Sometimes, when I come across them, I might get a white poppy as well. But I always buy a red one.

imageFlickr via Mary and her camera

They also can help nudge some of the conversation and memories of the people that I see in my day to day work. It really does help to create a sense of solidarity across generations as I enter the properties of those who fought in and were affected dramatically by the Second World War. London felt it profoundly.

So last week, I went to see a woman who had been newly allocated to me. The doctors had more or less established a diagnosis and treatment plan. I was part of that treatment plan. There were lots of things to get to grips with but my first role as usual was about building a relationship.

She saw my poppy and she smiled. She told me she had wanted one. She got one every year – but this year, she had not been able to get out and about. That’s the other way that I sometimes ‘lose’ poppies. I left her my slightly rain-soiled poppy and in exchange she told me a story.

She explained how she had been young when the war started and with her brothers and sisters had been evacuated to Wales.

She told me about the separations that ensued  and about the cruelty she was confronted with on a daily basis by this extrinsically ‘respectable’ family and how she was virtually starved and constantly blamed just for being a Londoner.  She told me that she still remembers the hunger – in fact, it has affected her relationship with food throughout her life.

The story, while ending not entirely happily, did end with her ‘escaping’ this particular placement . She returned as a young child to London to see out the rest of the war and the Blitz with her mother.

Her brother and her sister, who were happily placed with a kind and thoughtful family with many children of their own, both ended up staying in Wales after the war. Her sister married one of the children of the couple and the family still live there.

But for her, that period of abandonment ordained by the state, although it was for a relatively brief part of her youth, remains an absolutely defining part of her subsequent life.

There must be thousands of stories, if not millions, that are retold within families, my own family has an ‘evacuation tale’ within it. The people who suffered are far broader than those who went to fight.

These stories and the stories that I have heard over the years, allow me to build a virtual patchwork quilt of stories of the war as it affected different people at different stages of their lives across London and across the world.

I remember the man I visited in the care home who had fought with the Polish Free Army, the elderly woman who recalls her stories of her time in the WAAF and the old Italian man who tells me with a tragic earnestness of the duplicity of Mussolini who promised them the world and delivered extreme poverty.

As the woman related her evacuation story to  me, I recalled all the victims created by the war and by wars more generally.  The soldiers, the conscripts and the children displaced by warfare and politics.

I see people who live the war every day and have for decades and it is for them, and the people who never were able to return, that I have the poppy.

I think back on the epitaph on the Kohima Memorial

“When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say,
For Their Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today”

Some, those who did return and those who suffered at home, gave their tomorrows as well. We shouldn’t forget those who continue to live vastly changed and marked lives as well as those who never returned.

image foxypar4 at Flickr

Project Prevention on Strange Quarks

I’d like to direct anyone who has an interest in Project Prevention (and anyone who doesn’t should!) to the latest episode of the ‘Strange Quarks’ podcast where Stuart Sorensen is featured as an interviewee.

Project Prevention, as Stuart explained in a previous post here but explains in much greater detail on his own blog, pays people with substance misuse problems to be sterilised. There is so much so wrong about this but Stuart explains much better than I can.

He debunks of the so-called idea behind Project Prevention and exposes it for the immoral and ethically challenged bunkum that it is. All respect to him for maintaining such a strong voice against them.

Stuart’s section 33:20 mins into the podcast but actually, I’d recommend listening to the first part too as it is also interesting.

Definitely remaining on my podcast subscription list.

It is a fine new podcast that has just started and most definitely worth a listen.

Life as a Social Work Student 1

NB: This is a guest post from the now-student who contributed previously about her pre-course  observation of a social worker. I hope she’ll continue to update me as long as I can persuade her to . I sneaked in the ‘1’ part of the title as a hope that there may be a continuation of this series in the future!  Thanks a lot to her for fitting a post in amid the essay-writing Smile – cb

The First Few Months

Well what a difference a couple of months makes. When I last wrote here I was mulling over my experience shadowing a social worker last summer and thinking how strange it felt when she introduced me to people as ‘a social work student.” Now I’ve actually officially been a real student since the end of September and … it’s brilliant! I even handed an essay in the other day, I was quite pleased with it (it actually had an introduction and conclusion, and was around the right word count) but I think that like a singing dog, the wonder is not whether it is good but the fact that it exists at all.

Back in the Jurassic Thatcher era when I was an undergrad, I remember going on demonstrations against the ending of the student grant. Our slogan was, “A grant is a right, not a privilige,” (sic) and we had to redo one of our local student union’s banners after someone noticed that privilege was spelled wrong. (Those were the days.) But it also seems oddly resonant that students are on the march again today about cuts to student finance which are far worse than we ever faced back then.

I’d be there on the demo myself if I didn’t have a child observation to attend! And unlike lectures which probably will be suspended, since I arranged the observation myself it’s just extra hassle for me if I want to change the date. To me, this sums up life as a mature student in a nutshell.  Suddenly your life revolves around university timetables, the library, and the other students on the course. Until you get home and are back in the familiar zone of household chores and family commitments. It’s a balance. I have the greatest respect for my colleagues who have young children to manage on top of everything else, handling the demands of a masters degree on top of that is a very tough row to hoe.

What they don’t tell you is how much you will learn just from sitting around and chatting to the other students in between lectures and seminars. Between us, we have a vast amount of experience in social care with multiple client groups and at many levels — we have some people who were paid carers, others who were managers, and others whose experience is from the voluntary sector (like me). The masters in social work requires students to already hold a first degree and even there, we have a wide range of backgrounds. Some did their first degrees in relevant subjects like Psychology, others from widely different fields, not to mention a few higher degrees scattered around the field. And there’s also a wide mix of ethnic backgrounds represented as well — far moreso than among my usual group of friends (and that’s probably true for everyone else also). So when we discuss social capital (for example) people chip in with examples from communities as far afield as Nigeria, Bangladesh, South Africa, and council estates in Leeds.

Studying social policy and social work theory has had an effect on all of us even after 5 weeks — people have commented frequently that they have started to read the news more critically, to be more aware of power imbalances in society, and to appraise what effects the recently announced cuts package might have on people they know or have worked with in the past.

And although I sense that there’s some expectation from the lecturers that if students are not radical, they have somehow failed in their duty, I’m not sure if that is the prevailing mood. There’s dissatisfaction and great willingness to criticise the current system, yes. But this is too big a burden for us to bear on our own. And, radicalism worked so well when we were protesting about getting rid of student grants, didn’t it?

At the moment, we’re finding out where we are likely to be on placement in the new year. It’s a nervous time. When you haven’t heard yet, everyone else’s placement sounds brilliant. All I can say is that when I do find out, I’ll see who else on the course has previous experience in that area and have them on speed dial!

I thought I’d share some hard won tips for other students:

1. TALK TO THE OTHER STUDENTS ON YOUR COURSE. I cannot imagine doing this course in a distance learning environment; when I say I’ve learned so much from just chatting to the other students I’m probably understating things, if anything.

2. When you get your book list, head straight to the library. Run, don’t walk. You see, not all library books are the same. Some are available on long loans and those are the ones which will go first. A lot of library related material will also be on computer these days (I feel old now!). Many of the books might be available in electronic copy  and many of the journals definitely will. If you have any library questions, ask a librarian. They’re really nice, and are also experts in how to actually locate information and use libraries.

3. Read. Whenever you aren’t doing anything else, have something to read. When you finish one book, find another one. Scan the library shelves around the books on your book list. If something grabs your eye, pick it up.

4. Make good use of the staff. It’s perfectly OK to ask a personal tutor or course tutor if they can give you some feedback on your essay plan.

5. If your college offers any courses on essay writing, library use, or study skills then take them up on it.Do it sooner rather than later.

6. You will get essay questions and be expected to pick one (don’t laugh, this is radical stuff to someone with a science background). There are several strategies to picking an essay title. I have already experimented with:

a) Pick one that looks easiest. Some essay titles will be very explicit about what you are expected to do. If you’re asked to describe a theory and critically analyse the strengths and weaknesses, it’s likely more straightforwards than writing a fully fledged argument as to whether student social workers should be radical. Similarly you might find an essay title that lets you draw on something you already know.

b) Pick one that looks interesting. Maybe you were really engaged by the lecture where this subject was discussed and want to know more.

c) Pick one that looks useful. Maybe you already know which client group you want to work with, so writing an essay about some related aspect will give you a good excuse to read up and do some research in the area.

d) Pick one that looks challenging. Maybe you’ve never written a formal essay to argue a point before (again, science background!), so you could pick the most classic ‘argument’ essay title in the list on the basis that this is the best way to learn how to do it. After all, what’s the worst that can happen?

e) Pick one your friends are doing. That way you can all discuss it together. Just beware of plagiarism.

7. Look at the marking criteria when you are writing an essay. Aim high. Don’t give them a chance to mark you down by forgetting to include something that they specifically told you was part of the schema.

8. If you do have any issues that come up in your personal or family life, let the college know as soon as possible. No one wants you to fail. And there will probably also be a student counselling/ advice service available as well as extra support in the department if you need it.

9. Work. But don’t flog yourself,  this is a marathon not a sprint.