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

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

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

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

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

These were Cameron’s words yesterday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Election Update

I haven’t been too well over the past week so haven’t been able to update on election news with the vigour that I might have liked. On the positives (well, kind of) I’m hoping the now fairly imminent surgery is going to, at least in the longer term, deal with some of the pain issues that have risen up but on the negatives the thought of going into hospital and the immediate pain in the aftermath is freaking me out a bit.

I’ve never had to deal with chronic pain before and I’m understanding how it affects every aspect of ones life. Hopefully, an end is in sight though.

Enough of the lingering self-pity though and back to election news.

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The Guardian has a good summary of where the main parties stand on social policy issues.

From the Labour Party, apart from the ‘National Care Service’, we have a promise to ‘improve foster care’ including rolling out more specialised foster care services and introducing the ‘National College of Social Work’.

The Conservatives are sticking with their rather flaky £8000 insurance against long term care costs and an increased tax allowance for those who are married (or in civil partnerships).

Interestingly

The Tories are expected to repeal the law that set up children’s trusts which placed a “duty to co-operate” on police, schools and social services. They say the trusts didn’t prevent the death of Baby Peter and lead to a ” a buck-passing culture where, because everyone’s in a meeting, no one is responsible”.

I don’t know how these trusts work in practice as I work exclusively in adult services but I think the explanation that they didn’t prevent the death of Baby Peter is facile and disingenuous at the very least.  Those who should have been caring for Peter caused his death and although there was bad practice involved, it doesn’t mean the responsibility should be placed on anyone other than those who killed him.

Much has been made of the local democracy and ‘big society’ idea. I am sure it will work very well in some areas in the suburbs where there is more active engagement. My worry, and I say this living in an inner city constituency with a very high rate of poverty, is that the issues may be hijacked by those with the loudest voices or the narrowest interests who can dictate to those for whom voting and engagement in local issues is not as important as where the next meal is coming from.  Again, I live in a very diverse area but I can definitely see majority interests pushing out some of the smaller but significant minorities in the area where I live.

The Liberal Democrats confusingly promise one weeks respite care for carers. I had thought that was something a lot less generous than what current practice suggests that we do. They do though, prioritise dementia research.

I liked the idea of capping the pay of NHS managers to that of the Prime Minister. I don’t know if that was supposed to be funny but it definitely raised a smile to me. Now, they need to work on capping the City workers pay to that of the Queen… ..  .

Mental Nurse has a more specific run down on issues presented in manifestos as they refer to mental health care in particular in a series of three posts:

This Election in Mentalists (1)  Labour and Tories

This Election in Mentalists (2) Lib Dems and UKIP

This Election in Mentalists (3) Greens, Plaid Cymru, SNP

It makes for an interesting read and they have to get additional brownie points for reading the UKIP manifesto.

Finally, just an unrelated matter but I know something Julie at Campaigning for Health is involved with is the campaign against a local council proposal to build a new school on a disused landfill site. It seems a pretty appalling business so good luck to her with that campaign and if you want to read  more about it, you can find it here – Safe Sites for St Ambrose and Drumpark Schools. She is asking people to link the site which of course, I’m more than happy to do.

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