Blame the Poor – A Riot Rhetoric

I apologise for keeping on one track in my posts this week but I am preoccupied by events of the last week. I’m not the same person I was a week ago. Some of the pillars that I held on both tangible and intangible have gone now, never to be replaced.

There is so much I’m angry about. I’m angry that our ‘so-called’ leaders were all absent and seemed happy to let Tottenham burn, only coming home when the violence spread.

Tottenham, the patter and media seem to imply is a ‘place like that’. It’s not like Ealing or Clapham or Croydon.

There is a lot of ugly rhetoric that has been stoked by the government too. The blame is afforded to poor parenting, poverty, gangs – all, of course, present in places like Tottenham and making easy armchair sociologists of us all – myself included.

The truth is far more complex though as the cases coming through the Magistrates’ Courts testify. It was obvious from Saturday that the situation was exacerbated by opportunism.

Police ‘engaged’ in one area left other areas open to be looted pretty much at will. This ‘model’ spread around London and around the country.

Is it a coincidence that the increase in policing came when the ‘leaders’ returned? I doubt it.

As for those following the story, the Guardian are updating lists of those cases brought up to the Magistrates’ Court. It will make for interesting reading but for me, for the moment, it’s all a bit raw.

The push towards taking away council housing and ‘benefits’ from people found guilty of looting or rioting is ignorant beyond belief in my very humble opinion.

Housing isn’t a treat to be dangled in front of ‘poor people’.

It is actually a basic right so is the ability to live in a dignified manner.

And what about those ‘rioters’ who live in private housing? Or is there an assumption that it must have been ‘poor people’ in ‘council estates’ who caused the trouble.

It is easy to paint broad brushes and make easy judgements – so long as they are judgements made by ‘other people’.

Our minds need to simplify often complicated issues but there’s a danger in jumping to conclusions that can be wholly damaging. My concern is that that’s exactly what the government have and are doing.


I pondered at work yesterday if it was classed as ‘sad’ that I had taken Friday off work specifically because I wanted to stay up on Thursday all night to watch the the election result and follow the immediate aftermath on the TV on Friday.

Maybe I should have just said I wanted a long weekend…

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It came up as we discussed some more reconfiguration plans during a team meeting and there were definite jitters in the room about what the service might look like and how it might catch with a different government.  What’s definite though is that what kind of government we have, there will be more changes ahead.


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Can Gerry Robinson Fix Dementia Care Homes?

This evening, BBC2 are running the first of a series of two programmes about the state of dementia residential (and presumably nursing) care in the UK. Gerry Robinson, a successful businessman, who, in 2007 brought us ‘Can Gerry Robinson Fix the NHS?’ returns to focus his attention on what might be done to improve the care that is meted out to those who live in 24 hour dementia care.

I have to try and hold my cynical tongue from just crying out ‘money’ although it’s hard to escape from that as the premise. Staff in care homes are poorly paid and poorly rewarded as regards career development and I speak from personal experience as I worked in residential care for about seven years doing ‘hands on’ care and reached a point where I felt the only way to progress apart from through the management structure (which I really didn’t want to do) was to return to university and train as a social worker.

I still consider those years that I worked in that area to be a crucial part of the process of my professional and personal development. The fact that I worked on a day-to-day basis in a residential environment has given me a much wider understanding of the room for growth in that field and have informed my judgements when assessing the quality of care homes as I have had to do over the years in making placement decisions and reviews and taught more lessons that I can recount in making and establishing relationships and the importance of dignity.

But back to Gerry Robinson and ‘Dementia Care Homes’. Apart from the cynicism that only those open to change would be willing to ‘let him in’, I hope that the attention on this area of care will focus some more on what needs to be done to provide the excellent standards of care that we all should be clambering for.

It has been too easy for poor quality care to go unchecked and we can look to the CQC (Care Quality Commission) and its predecessor, the CSCI (Commission for Social Care Inspection) and their move towards ‘desk inspections’ and away from the system of announced and unannounced inspections as one reason for this. Another is that often ‘old age’ is an area that people want to forget. It happens to ‘other people’. The less we move older people, and unwell older people at that, the more that some people try to shrink away and pretend that it will be different for us or our families. The truth is, it isn’t. However loving and caring a family is, there are some people that will need more care than can be provided at home and these residential homes and the quality that they achieve (or don’t) should be a concern for us all.

I often thought that there was no reason, except money, of course, that residential care homes for older adults need to be accommodating so many people whereas those for younger adults with learning or physical disabilities can be run on a much less ‘instittutional’ basis as group homes. Where are the ‘group homes’ for older adults who demand the same quality of care?

We come back to a lack of money and investment and probably interest in the wider population. As long as less can be spent on care without it being seen as scandalous or some kind of electoral issue then it will be.

Again, going back to my experience, good care does not have to be expensive care. I have seen some excellent, forward-thinking homes that are no more expensive – but the massive difference is not so much physical environment as commitment and quality of staff. While some excellent staff are willing to work for mininum wages, the way to improve the quality of care would be to add more incentives to keep good staff – that doesn’t need to always be through higher pay although that wouldn’t go amiss,  but by a wider and broader valuing of those who work in residential care, better training and development opportunities,more flexible working practices and quality supervision.

I expect it to be an interesting programme and will try and summarise after I’ve seen it. Ultimately more attention paid to this issue can only be a good thing.

BBC 2 – 9pm – Tuesday 8th December + Tuesday 15 December

EDIT 10/12/09

I thought I’d add a few thoughts about the programme after having watched it. I was impressed by it to be honest and surprised in a way. Not by some of the attention to the care (or lack of it) that exists in the sector but at the real attempts to explore what works.  I am mostly glad that there is some focus on the quality of care delivered in these enterprises that are, for the most part, profit-making private ventures. Most interestingly. I thought, was the highlighted fact that for all the inspection regimes tick-boxes that can be completed, there is more to quality care than ensuring the boxes are ticked and really, it is about putting yourself into the thoughts and feelings of that person and not treating people as commodities or homogenic.

I was appalled by the first manager who appeared and had no training in dementia care and referred to the elderly residents as ‘little ones’ – I can’t remember the quote exactly. I know that we need to move away from language but I think it is indicative of an inner thought process that is both patronising and infantilising. What was really heartening was to see some care homes that did things well. For me, as mentioned above, I think one thing that was obvious was respect to care staff who are there on a day-in day-out basis and are responsible for the happiness of residents in a much more real basis than some of the managers and owners. Respect is not only about pay (although that helps!) but about training and ‘perks’ – one thing emphasised by the programme was that ‘free’ meals on duty were being denied care staff at little cost to the owners and was a considerable source of resentment to the staff. I can well-understand that having worked in that setting.

A part of me wanted to quit my job and buy a care home to implement some of the more progressive ways of working immediately to be honest. It should be a programme more widely watched by those involved in the sector and I’d urge any interested party to pick it up on the BBC iPlayer in the meantime.


Over the weekend, I was reading a post by Madmutt on his blog – about Jade Goody. He explains some of the excesses of the media coverage and I can’t help but agree.

Jade made her name in Big Brother in the UK and has become a product of reality television in just about every form that it has up to having her own show now where her life is shadowed by television cameras.

Jade, tragically, has an aggressive form of cervical cancer. She is desperately unwell and she has been told that she is at the latter stages of the illness as the cancer has spread.

It is desperately hard to feel anything except enormous pity for Jade. She is young and she has a young family. She made a statement that she wants to publicise her illness in order to create a better future for her sons.

I don’t think we would begrudge her that, except, as Madmutt says, does the limit come at any point as we are ‘treated’ to an endless stream of news and photos on a daily basis which express her clearly deteriorating health.

Of course it is right that she should be praised for raising awareness of cervical cancer and the need for screening.

But I can’t help but feel uncomfortable about the bombardment of media interest in her condition. I know she wants it. It does have a feel of excessiveness though.

My ‘take’ on it, as you will, is that my own mother died of cancer when I was a little bit older than Jade’s children are now. The time between diagnosis and death was relatively short – months, rather than years.

I can’t help but think of Jade’s children in the future and how they will perceive the pictures of pain that are daily streamed even on the BBC news. There is no way to avoid the media coverage.

Perceptions of death, dying and illness are very different when viewed through the eyes of a primary age child – who might be sheltered from some of the pains of life by a parent – you know, the hamster that ‘goes to sleep’ or the dog that ‘goes to live in a farm in the country’. But when it is the parent that goes, these explanations and simplifications come back to play with the mind.

In retrospect, it is perhaps easier to see how I moved through different ‘stages’ of grief as I moved through my adolescence. I think the ‘anger’ stage was one of the more difficult to bear.

I was angry at her for leaving me – us (the family – my siblings and father). How could she do this? Why didn’t she fight harder against the illness?

Of course, you move on from this stage eventually – and obviously, I am at a very different stage now, but thinking about Jade’s children, I have to wonder how helpful this process of sharing their mother with the media will be to them in the longer term.

I hope they have a lot of stability and support around them. My fear is that sometimes more money does not equal more support.

And I really do hope the media back off soon. It is getting beyond tasteful – although I think that happened a while ago – and although I accept she wants to have the publicity, I can’t help but wishing there were a way to avoid it or restrict it to outlets that I choose to read or buy.

Perhaps that is a more personal reaction from me though, as I can’t help but draw parallels and can’t escape from some of the more painful memories that reside in the ‘me-as-a-child’ sections of my mind that are for the most part locked away.


Earlier in the week, I popped in to see someone that I hadn’t seen for a couple of weeks. I had intended it to be a fairly quick visit. Things had been stable and I was in the area so just wanted to check and show my face – just in case. I’d phoned the previous day and confirmed with her and her son that I’d be around.

Sometimes, I find a need to be proactive – rather than waiting for people to come with problems. Perhaps it’s more common with older people but people sometimes ‘don’t want to bother me’ with some of the difficulties they face so occasionally I have be quite determined to seek out these difficulties.

This was one such instance.

On arriving at Mrs S she told me that her son and carer had been taken to hospital that morning. She didn’t know how he was or what it was about except that he was in great pain. She hadn’t wanted to phone to tell me because she didn’t want to bother me!

A few phone calls later we had established that he was fine but also not fine in that he was going to be staying in hospital at least for a few days.

And that’s where we had to kick into quite speedy action –

– Call to district nurses to ensure they could monitor medication

– Informing care agency and asking for additional hours with as soon as possible effect (they were able to do the next day – which was enormously helpful!).

– call to other son who lived a little further away and ask if he can fill gaps for the immediate

– call to day centre to ask if they could increase service for the next few days to ensure hot meals

All the standard stuff, all fairly smooth.

The main difficulty though remained, at least for Mrs S.

Her son had bought her a wonderful TV. It had a satellite box, full cinematic experience, surround sound – along with various other bits and pieces that I couldn’t identify but somehow provided access to more television channels than there are grains of sugar in a sugar cube!

image andyrob – flickr

And.. .4 different remote controls.

In between my telephone calls, Mrs S looked at me sadly and asked me if I could turn the television on for her.

‘I haven’t been able to watch the telly all day’ she said

‘I can’t work out which control to use’.

I looked in askance at the pile of controls

‘I’m not afraid of buttons’ I said to myself.

We combated PIN numbers (hurrah for defaults!)  and some juggling of remotes to find the something she recognised.

Brief explanations and an extremely poorly drawn chart, along with some sticky tape and highlighter pens allowed me to ensure she knew at least, the right volume buttons and how to change the channels.

But this is the kind of thing you possibly don’t think of when you buy your mum the latest digital TV surround sound cinematic experience television – and she just wants to see Emmerdale.

I did think though, as I left her happily watching – that I was really glad I had decided just to pop in that day of all days – I would have found out the next day anyway, when her regular carer showed up but one day without television – I don’t know if I’d be able to manage it!