Panels

Since I’ve been employed as a social worker one of the constants in my working week has been the presence and existence of ‘panels’ in many different forms. There was a brief stage when we were told not to refer to them as ‘panels’ but rather meetings but it’s all the same thing at least, in the setting in which I’ve been working. They are groups of managers and professionals of a variety of provenances making funding decisions on behalf of the local authority or health service.  Of course sometimes they say it is about joint decision making (which is why the word ‘panel’ is frowned upon now) but that’s really a facade. I make recommendations but I have little authority over funding decisions.

Different local authorities often have different mechanisms so my explanations of the panels that I might attend come with the proviso that things are arranged and organised in a variety of ways.

We have panels which primarily make decisions about packages of care that exceed a particular baseline cost. That baseline has changed a variety of times but generally managers in each team are given a certain ‘threshold’ to which they can approve funding requests but above that and any application for funding for residential or nursing respite or long term care have to navigate a ‘panel’.

We have separate panels for high cost personal budget packages which would be provided for care at home and those which approve residential and nursing care/respite and continuing health care (which authorise applications for long term payment for care by the NHS )

Going to panel generally involves the transfer of reams of paperwork. I’d probably say it’s the most obvious way though that I provide the function of advocating for a particular service user or family member when I ‘present’ the situation to those who make the ultimate funding decisions.

Contrary to what some people might think, I have absolutely no vested interest in the local authority or NHS ‘saving’ money by not agreeing to a particular package – indeed, I won’t tend to bring something to the panel if I don’t wholeheartedly agree with it myself. I am a great advocate of money being spent where it is needed.  I have a general wish to see public money well-spent of course and I understand the need to ration resources but if I bring something to the panel and authorise an assessment, it is because I believe that that is what is needed according to my professional  judgement and as far as that’s concerned, balancing the rest of the local authority’s budget is not an issue I consider (which is obviously why these panels exist!).

Similarly with the Continuing Health Care Panels  I cannot conceive of a situation where I would bring someone to that panel if I didn’t absolutely want and believe that they should get that funding.  If I attend and collate a report it is because I and the multi-disciplinary team behind the report, believe in it.  I absolutely want people to get what they are entitled to and have no ‘secret instructions’ to try and deny the funding. The rules though are not altogether clear but it suits the funding parties and the governments to keep the rules complicated and unclear. There’s a lot of money at stake.

The panels are open to service users and carers but for me, personally, it’s very rare that service users or carers attend with me.

I have more often  had family members attend Continuing Health Care Panels with me and found it is a much better way of working as it allows a lot more transparency and removes one of those bars between me trying to put the words of others in my mouth.

By now, I know the people who sit on the panels and they know me. That’s a massive advantage in being able to persuade and cajole. It makes me realise how useful it is to have built up links and a reputation among the more senior management. I like to think that a trust develops.

Panels used to scare me because I’d be questioned, often in detail about the proposals that would have a substantial monetary implication for the local authority. My paperwork and assessments are examined in great detail and a level of scrutiny applied. Now that I’m more confident, I tend to take pride in presenting my reports and welcome the questioning as I know what to prepare, what to highlight and what to expect.

I’ve had panels where paperwork alone is assessed and where we are not required to attend in person.  I prefer being there ‘in person’ especially when there are any question marks that I feel I can clarify.

One of my favourite tasks in my work is feeling that I am genuinely able to advocate and navigate a person or family through the muddy mired waters of local authority funding streams and decisions. I wouldn’t say I enjoy the panel process although there is a satisfaction in having something approved especially if it is something you feel might be hanging in the balance, but I don’t dread them as much as I used to.

As for now though, it’s just another part of the process of seeing a paper ‘plan’ through to fruition.  I know they work differently in different areas – indeed, I’ve seen them in different forms in the local authorities I’d work for – but that’s how they work – whether they are called meetings or panels, the effect is the same.

And that’s the explanation of what the panels are – the other side of each discussion I have and each decision that is made by the faceless ‘management’ that I sit in front are that they are desperately important decisions to each person who is reliant on the authorisation of that funding to allow them to life their lives more fully, to allow their family to have access to respite services. My job as I see it, is to bring the paperwork and paper assessments ‘to life’. I am not only writing about a person on a pro forma, but I’m able to flesh out the requested questions and documents with a person, with a family, with relationships.

That’s why I don’t mind attending  these panels as much as  I used to. I’m not frightened of them anymore. I see them as an opportunity to take a crucially important role in someone’s life and to speak for them and not  just about them.

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

Oliver Letwin, United Kingdom Conservative Par...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does fear drive excellence?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh and the speech he made these remarks in?

It took place

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

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

Meanwhile I have work tomorrow.

You enjoy your private tennis court today.

Selling the NHS – The Beginning

The National Health Service Norfolk and Norwic...

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

As The Guardian reports

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How equitable will the ‘new’ system be?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Price of Everything and the Value of Nothing

To continue my theme (at least initially) for carers’ week, I wondered a while on the purpose of these weeks and days and months we have devoted to various issues.  They are about celebration, gratitude and recognition for the most part. Celebrating Mothers Day, for example,  doesn’t make us less grateful or thankful for our respective mothers on the other 364 days of the year so what is it about having a special day or week that is necessary.

I’m not a cynic. It is a good focus for events and allows particular issues that can be forgotten to be drawn out into the news agenda for a discreet period of time (a week is good – it can focus the attention). Campaigns can be built around days or weeks or months and themes can be wound up in the consciousness of the ethereal ‘general public’ whose attention can be fickle and fast-moving.

So it is that Carers Week is upon us but for it to be truly meaningful over the longer term there has to be a more systemic change in the process of social care and the way it is done in this country.

I engaged in a very brief ‘Twitter chat’ yesterday with a carer, Casdok, who writes a blog here. She mentioned that since her child had moved from childrens’ services to adult services she had noticed that she was listened to less and (I’m extrapolating a little here because it was in very short messages!) the service received was less good.

A brief exchange mentioned the loss of the relationships with particular social workers – you know, when the social worker used to pop round for a cup of tea – made me wonder what we have lost in the rush towards ‘care management’ which was to be the way that adult social care was organised after the NHS and Community Care Act.

I worked in an adult social care team before I moved into Mental Health services. The office had something of a ‘production line’ feel to it. Assess, review, close. Assess, review, close. Sometimes you would linger if there were direct payments involved but that would mostly be about referring to a different agency or part of the council to set up the payments and advise about employment regulations and advertising for assistance.

The relationship was and is lost. Is this what we study for? To assess, review and close with some safeguarding thrown in with increasing regularity. The processes have been streamlined almost to the point of any independent thought and true ‘assessment’ in the sense of being able to give professional judgements being rattled out of the processes to simplify.  This process has streamlined the heart out of social work for adults.

Critical analysis and reflection, yes, there is an option but it has to be in your own time and at your own rate. When we lose the critical analysis and reflection in our work though, we cease, to all intents and purposes being social workers and become care managers.

And where is the relationship-building? The listening. The advocacy. It has been costed out of the equation. It cannot be reduced to a performance indicator and therefore it has no value.

The issue is that it does have a value. It has a value to carers and to service users but often that value is unquantifiable and in a world of measurements and costs, unquantifiable is not where you want a value to lie. Because it is discarded.

The reason I moved from adult social care into mental health social work was because I felt my brain was stagnating to a point. Of course, things may have changed with self-directed support being more available now but I hope I always assessed in a person-centred and creative way. I certainly set up a lot of direct payments packages.

For the moment, in the mental health teams we do have a little more time to spend building therapeutic relationships. We have  more time to listen. It is all measured, of course, against outcomes because we have to be able to justify every minute we spend on paid time  but the ability to build relationships and to listen are, at least, embedded more strongly in the role.

I can’t see us ever going back to the days of being able to pop in for cups of tea. And we have lost much much more than a piece of cake along the way. We have lost the soul of the profession at the sniping jaws of employers who want to distil creativity out of the job because we need to meet specified targets in specified times. Everything is quantified.

Sometimes though, we need to be less complacent as employees. There are jobs going. There are changes coming in our services. Last years cuts are only the very start. They will come more quickly. Social Work is changing. It will move out of local authorities and I don’t think that will necessarily be a bad thing. It may be the best thing for the profession as a whole, in fact, if not for individual employees who won’t necessarily have the rock solid pensions and the now laughable idea of job security.

Perhaps we need to take more responsibility for our own work and our own profession in order to retain the values that remain at its heart and move into community work and macro-social work.

I occasionally get glimmers of real hope and drive for the future and the ways in which this profession can change and be changed and then, I look at the people at the top and wonder if there is any desire for truly structural changes in the way that social care and social work is delivered. Yes, I want personalisation to work, I really do but I want the value of good (and I really mean good) quality social work to be recognised in the process.

Yes, there are coercive elements to our role. I know that only too well as an Approved Mental Health Practitioner. I didn’t go into this job to be loved and as for respect, for the most part, I can take it or leave it – except for self-respect. I have to be able to feel I am giving the best every day I am at work and that regardless of some of the more coercive elements of my work, I am able to work according to my moral and ethical compass.

Sometimes I worry that has been lost but perhaps among the structural changes that are going on around us in social care, some true change can be affected.

I hope so.

Distractions and Uncertainty

Of Local Distractions

I met one of the hospital social workers earlier this week. We don’t actually catch up with each other very often but when we do we always make a point of hanging around in whatever corridor we bump into each other in and chat.

This time, we again commented on the ebb and flow of work which seems to be balancing on an almost perpetual ebb without much flow at the moment.

We are all on edge at the moment. Another reconfiguration is in the pipeline and so many rumours are abounding that it is making it very difficult to actually get very much done.  Announcements and decisions are in the offing and have been put back again and again so all we know is that ‘this is a big one’ and that some jobs are going.

Good place to leave it with us, management team!

Seriously I do wonder if any of the so-called management executives who are paid most highly with their years of skills of organising complex projects ever remember those very first baby steps in communication skills and ponder on the way that rumours spread when a team of people are bereft of actual facts.

So my kind of friend, the hospital social worker, filled me with a swathe of new rumours that I hadn’t heard before about how our jobs were going to be directly affected by these changes and in turn, I shared with him the hotch-potch rumours that I’d heard from another AMHP at a training session a couple of weeks ago who, although she is prone to hyperbole, still seemed to deliver a fairly gloomy outcome of what might happen to all our jobs.

We smile. We chuckle. We remind ourselves how complicit we are in spreading the uncertainty through these rumours. Then I return to the office and immediately tell everyone what I’ve just heard from my new source about the talk that is going around at the hospital. He, in turn, no doubt returns to his hospital team with the latest gossip in the ‘community teams’.

And in the meantime, of course, work goes on. The increasingly distressed calls. The organisation and co-ordination of assessments and the desperate attempts to make some kind of priority from the pieces of information that have been fed through to us.

This is life at the bottom of an organisation when the top is reorganising. This is the pit of the rumour mill where scraps of invented truths and fears are ground together and occasionally spit out nonsense but this is what we are talking about in the large open plan offices. This is what is happening while the government is talking about pumping more money into the NHS. This is what is happening when officials are prevaricating and making the policies that end up on intranet sites that we don’t have time to access and read.

And it made me think of Southern Cross – I’ve been thinking about Southern Cross a lot lately.

Of National Job Losses

The announcement of 3000 job cuts yesterday although, I suppose, unsurprising coming from a company that is in such severe financial straits. Considering that they have sold off their property assets, staff costs are likely to be one of their highest expenditures. I wonder how the staff employed today feel. I wonder how the residents who  might have built up relationships with staff members feel and I wonder how people who are about to make placements in care homes feel.

Am I less likely to place someone in a Southern Cross Care Home today? Yes.

The Independent states that

The jobs to be axed are expected to include over 300 nurses,1,275 care staff, almost 700 catering posts, 440 domestic jobs and 238 maintenance posts

They don’t sound very ‘back office’ to me. Although Southern Cross maintains that this will not affect quality of care provision, it rather makes you wonder what the staff were doing in that case.

Ideally, it would be useful to check the data from CQC inspection reports to see what the inspectors said about staffing. The difficulty is that publicly available inspection reports that are recent enough to give up to date evidence.

I decided to look at a few random Southern Cross inspection reports from the London area.  Professor Google spat out some results and this is by no means scientific as I didn’t have the time for a more extensive ‘study’.

Romford Grange? Good report in 2008. That seems in order. Of course 2008 is three years ago now. A long time between actual inspections but we know they are not actually going to do inspections so frequently now. Still, three years seems to be pushing it. Lots can change overnight, let alone in three years.

Tower Bridge Care Centre? Well, that had an inspection in 2010. Oh good, I think. But wait, that was only because there were concerns regarding medication management that had been raised specifically.

Another random check on Camberwell Green Care Home  – oh, an inspection in 2010, surely that’s a good sign? Silly me, the recent inspections seem only to be where there are problems identified. Here’s what the report says

The service has been performing poorly for some time and matters have not been addressed by Southern Cross.They have started to do that recently but that has lead to lots of staffing changes and a turbulent time including managers leaving quickly. The ship has been steadied by a management team who have been sent in to the home. This inspection has identified some of their successes but more work is needed and a key need is for a stable, consistent management team to be in place. Until such time we can only view the home as adequate

Care planning is not personalised and is not considering all areas of individuals need, therefore the care arrangements are not always well informed.
The complaint’s procedure needs to be improved, it has to be open and transparent with complainants feeling that they are listened to and that issues are acted upon. Communication too is not as good as it should be, all issues whether they are minor concerns or not must be addressed.
Despite staff receiving up to date training on Safeguarding Vulnerable people,
procedures are still not fully robust at the service.

Burgess Park? Oh, it had 4 inspections in 2010. That’s what I call exceptionally good monitoring. Ah, one look at the most recent report and you’ll see that it is because there are problems that there has been so many inspections.

For example, their April 2010 inspection report states that

Our observations of a lunchtime on the second day of the inspection showed us that the systems for shift planning need to be improved. We saw that one member of staff was the only person in the dining room where there were fifteen service users. They needed various degrees of assistance and we observed that the lack of staff caused difficulties for them An example was a service user who had to wait an unreasonably long time to be assisted to go to the WC; another service user fell asleep while waiting to be assisted to eat her meal.

and while the July report says that these issues have been ‘addressed’ and more staff were recruited, it does make you wonder where the cuts are going to come from.

Lauriston House? Home to 100 older and disabled  adults – last inspected in 2007.  In fact, a random glance at the ‘most recent available assessments to view’ tells a sorry tale.

Previous reports

  • Inspection report 2007/10/26
  • Inspection report 2006/09/06
  • Inspection report 2005/11/15
  • Inspection report 2005/08/05
  • Inspection report 2004/12/14
  • Inspection report 2004/06/29

Oh, it got a good report. In 2007. But for 100 people, that’s a pretty poor show. In fact, if anything is to tell the tale of the toothlessness of the CQC and the way that CSCI was heading prior to it’s inception – it’s that list of dates. Look on it, ministers and make a decision if that is the level of scrutiny and regulation you want to maintain?

Back to the job losses though. So what will that mean for today’s residents and staff? Uncertainty. Rumours. Whispering.

Whatever we say when we look back at what we can achieve and improve today for our own old age and for that of our children – we definitely can’t say we are living in uninteresting times.

Lansley, Nurses, Social Workers and Colleges

Yesterday, as a part of Lansley’s so-called ‘listening’ exercise, he found himself at the conference of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) as they voted in favour of a  motion of no confidence in him personally by a fairly substantial 99%.  Rather marvellously when you take into account the 13 abstentions, only 6 nurses voted against the motion of no confidence. As was mentioned on Twitter yesterday, it seemed to be a miracle that 6 were to be found.

You’d have thought that that was quite a strong message for Listening Lansley to have paid heed to but no, he wanted to give a perception of listening (as if the vote of no confidence wasn’t a strong enough message!).

He asked for 60 specially chosen RCN representatives to talk to him while he ‘listened’ for 90 minutes in a room to which press were not allowed.

Well, nothing wrong with listening of course. I shouldn’t scoff but I can’t help it amid Lansley’s gruff and graceless apologies. Why? Because the listening should have been done before the plans were announced. The listening should be done with a whole wide range of people who have an interest in the health service.

He has got it wrong  but he doesn’t seem to want to listen as much as try and persuade and regroup around his message of privatisation.

The message from the Royal College of Nursing was strong, and powerful and it has caught the news media. People listen to nurses when they say things are wrong.

But we can’t forget how wrong the government got when they brought these proposals to Parliament in the first place. What does it say about a government that has to do its consulting AFTER it has taken a Bill to Parliament that has been so strongly attacked on all sides by public and professional opinion. It doesn’t exactly make one comfortable that we are ‘in safe hands’ as they like to promise at election time.  Maybe it’s because all the consultations they did before the Bill was presented were with private companies and party donors.

This is a government which is struggling under the surface and has been caught out already on many occasions by acting without any idea of what the plans that they propose actually signify. It is when they try messing around with the health service that people sit up and shout back but what about the other measures that they have proposed like the changes in the welfare benefit systems which seem force degrading and inappropriate ‘tests’ to claimants to jump through hoops to get the money they ‘deserve’.  This is what we need to speak up against as well.

And one of my sadder moments yesterday, when I thought about the impact of the nurses and the fact that they are at least being listened to for press purposes, is how we, in social work, have been poorly served by the organisations that supposedly represent our interests.

We should look at the RCN and what they have done and the effect a vote of confidence had on the ridiculousness of Lansley’s ‘listening’ exercise when with an almost unanimous voice they have humiliated him. Where is the nearest equivalent social work voice?

Community Care reports that the Chief Executive claiming that ‘he simply doesn’t believe’  Unison’s figures of having 40,000 social work members.

Honestly, is that the best he can do in rousing his members? Is that the best we can do as social workers when we should be at the heart of opposing the government agenda to heap the cuts on those who have the least? We just get into squabbles between Unison and BASW about who has the most social work members? Who is going to ‘lead’ the College of Social Work? Are we going to have a ‘Chief Social Worker’? Surely better to have a broad members organisation that can speak for all social workers rather than split members into different ‘camps’.  As for me, I’m a member of Unison AND a member of BASW. Generally, I’ve seen value in both.  It isn’t about a competition about who has more members and some people like me would be counted twice in the figures.

More than anything we can see the importance of having a strong, national voice as a profession and as representatives of a social care sector that is being and has been ravaged by repeated governments. Perhaps a broader College of Social Care might not  have been a bad idea.

The stronger the body the louder the voice.

Of course, that isn’t going to happen. It looks like we will be left with a College that few social workers who are on the front line will be interested in because we don’t have time for the politics within the profession. We have too much to do and need to focus on the politics of the country before everything that we know and love about this society is lost.  So while the College or Colleges (depending) spend all their time and money rewriting competencies or capabilities or capacities again and again and again ad infinitum – some of us will just be getting on with doing the actual work.

But the shame of it is that a College of Social Work/Social Care could perhaps have been a voice to shout against the Welfare Benefit Bill and the ridiculous tests that are put in place to make decisions as to ‘eligibility’  in the same way that the nurses are a voice to shout against the health and (oh the irony) social care bill.

We should be more like the nurses. We need to be if we are to survive and have relevancy.  We need to be listened to as well.  But in order to be listened to, we need to build support up amongst ourselves rather than squabble like schoolchildren. That is the pity.

Why I’m marching

The Guardian published an article on their website yesterday titled ‘Why we’re marching?’ and it gave the points of view of six people who were going to be attending the TUC organised rally on Saturday.

Uni brennt Demonstration Wienketu@Flickr

I am going to be attending. I have had a lot of time to consider whether to attend or not and what I think I might achieve by attending.

Firstly, I had to decide whether I attend as a member of my trade union (Unison) as a member of my professional association (BASW), as a member of my community (local group from the area I live are organising) or as  a member of a pressure group (SWAN).  I could also march as a part of a women’s ‘bloc’.

That, in itself is a question of identities and a practical lesson in some of the systems that we build around us and how we choose to identify ourselves. As it happens, I have chosen not to march under any particular banner but with a few friends together who would ally ourselves to different causes and who have different identities.

But back to the reasons and I’ll start with the negative reasons.

I don’t want to condone a government nor a society (because I do believe that the Labour Party have also been complicit in this) that ostracises and alienates people who depend on the support of the state to live dignified lives.  Talk of ‘alarm clock’ Britain is offensive to me. Talk of the ‘deserving and undeserving’ claimants moves our society back to a Victorian age. I am not marching for my own job – I am fairly confident that that’s safe in one form or another – but I’m marching for the people whom I come into contact through my work who I see genuinely suffering and who exist on some of the fringes of the mainstream and will not be marching for themselves.

I will be marching for the carers who have having respite cut and the service users who are terrified to send off claims for Attendance Allowance and Disability Living Allowance because they don’t want to be ‘seen as scroungers’.

As long as programmes such as ‘Saints and Scroungers’ are allowed to be made on our public service network, I’ll not stop fighting and shouting for a change to the attitudes towards social assistance in this country.

I see the effects of this every day and on many lives.

I’m marching to protest against a government and an opposition party that seek to make a wholesale reduction of 20% in claimants for Disability Living Allowance.

The PR machines of politicians have been working overtime to blur the lines between in-work benefits for disabled adults and out of work benefits. There is no subtlety in the government’s agenda and rhetoric and it needs to be challenged

I am marching against a system (and this is the last government as well) that has destroyed the quality of adult social care over the last decade so we remain absolutely dependent on  private companies – their profits and their shareholders – for delivering care or lack of it to the most vulnerable people in our society. I am absolutely not excusing Labour for their role in this – ultimately, that’s why I am marching under my own banner rather than any set up by an organisation of which I am a member.

I also feel that I need to make my presence felt in the face of a government carrying out it’s politically motivated cuts which shriek of the worst Thatcherite policies.

I march as someone who did actually vote for the Liberal Democrats at the last election and many previous elections to ensure that my voice is not lost and my vote was not wasted when I make my opposition  to this government felt.

I also march to express my anger at the government’s proposals to dismantle our National Health Service – helped by Labour’s policies over the past decade, it has to be said – but we need to make sure that the government remember that they have absolutely no mandate to do this.

Those reasons though, are mostly negative so here are the positive reasons that I am marching.

I am marching to show solidarity. To show that one doesn’t have to  march because we are personally feeling the effects of the cuts, to be honest, I am not to a large extent – but because I need to make my voice heard on behalf of those who cannot and THAT is what big society and society as a whole is about.

I am marching to push for a re-examination of some of the cruellest policies and the lack of consideration of where the bulk of the cuts will fall – namely on those who are the least able to resist them.

These government programmes for cuts have been poorly thought through ‘trigger’ responses to a government that has no experience of governing and lives off entitlements themselves.

Is it any more ‘reprehensible’ to be wholly reliant on ‘daddy’s trust fund’? How many government ministers know the true meaning of poverty and how hard it is to work through it? I doubt there can be many.

We do not live in a meritocratic system and we need to prove that when voices are not heard through the ballot box we have other means to make our points.

Our ‘leaders’ say we are ‘all in this together’ but we are  not and they cannot be allowed to get away with such lies. They are not ‘in this’ with us.

I am marching because I want to be a part of proving what we can really do when we are ‘all in this together’.

I am happy to pay higher taxes for services that I personally will never use or need. That is society. That is the society I want. That is the society I want to march with.

These cuts are ideologically driven. They are not ‘the only way’. That is why I am marching.

Fund Our Future : Stop the Cuts - National DemonstrationMatt Dinnery@Flickr

Anyone else going to be there? I can’t promise to meet up because it probably won’t be the most conducive environment to meet and have a chat but I’d be interested in the reasons of others.