KINDNESS: TIME TO REDISCOVER THE POLITICS OF KINDNESS

 

I have been silent on this blog for some time. Today though I want to write about kindness. I have two reasons for this. First, because not enough people write about it. Second, because without kindness I can’t really see what the point of anything is.

Mostly I want to talk about kindness in relation to politics, policy and political and democratic process. I want particularly to do this, because we are living in a time of enormous political change, it is difficult to keep up with and take it all on board. It is happening here at home as well as globally, and finally if one thing above all seems to characterize it, then it is its cruelty. It is the antithesis of kind.

Let me briefly focus on the domestic situation because its impact for us in the UK is of course so powerful. Lately we have had the following:

Domestic politics, political agendas and political debate which have focused on attacking people – notably immigrants and refugees, and also people reliant on welfare benefits – but also many more, from the recipients of public service pensions and lone parents, to the post-war (supposedly overprivileged) ‘baby boomers’ and disabled people.

The referendum on our relation with the European Union; whether we should stay or leave. Whatever the actual arguments, this was primarily fought on attacking (again) refugees and immigrants, more general xenophobia (in relation to Europe) and a narrow kind of nationalist selfishness. The ‘brexit’ argument, ie to hate and fear others, won.

Finally, and partly related to the referendum, campaigns for new leaders for the two main political parties, Conservatives and Labour. There can be no doubt that nastiness underpinned the Tory campaign – remember the struggles between Gove, Boris and Leadsom and the final ‘winner’ May. A lot of very nasty things said and accused. A lot of settling of scores in the shaping of the Cabinet. But then this almost seems to pall next to the efforts of the parliamentary labour party (PLP) to unseat its democratically elected leader (on the ostensible basis that democratic elections don’t hold if ‘we’ say he isn’t good enough, however good anyone else might think he is) at the very time when the Conservative Party was at its most divided, weakest and most open to electoral defeat. A great deal of nastiness here.

So I’m setting the scene for what I see as political nastiness. I don’t know what the exact relationship is between such political nastiness and the widely agreed alienation of many people from politics, the dominant political parties and democratic process, but there is general agreement that this had a lot to do with the close brexit vote – which in any truly stable democracy would be seen as no basis for any major decision and merely a measure of the abnegation of political responsibility by politicians who seemed preoccupied with their personal ambitions and aspirations.

But of course this doesn’t tell us much about what kindness is, even if it may give us a pretty good picture of how cruel and publicly disliked conventional UK politics now are. (by the way little mention of the Green Party in all this, which has been quietly settling its own leadership re-election concerns at the same time and which has the same number of MPs as UKIP but barely a hundredth of the media coverage – maybe it is just too humane and kind!).

But let me get back to kindness. What is it? What do I and others mean by it? Why do we think it is important? Why are we so concerned that it currently seems to be so marginalized?

Well I don’t have a neat definition of kindness. But thinking about it carefully in relation to human relations, it seems to me it is about treating people as you might hope to be treated; not being cruel or vicious to them for no good reason (what good reasons are there?); avoiding insulting, degrading and discriminatory attitudes and language; trying to treat people with equality and respect; being prepared to listen to their views and arguments even if not agreeing with them; avoiding them hurt or injury, erring on the side of warmth and empathy, rather than hostility and aggression. I guess I could go on. That’s my starter for ten. I think you know the sort of territory I have in mind.

Isn’t it about time we reassessed these historic values and gave them more attention and regard? Isn’t it time we questioned the kind of shouty, aggressive, petty and nasty behaviour so beloved of soap interactions and remember how we like to be regarded; what we hope for, for those we love, for our children and grandchildren and, remember that truly what goes round comes round and that every act of unkindness will doubtless entail its balancing act of unkindness back against us, just like every kindness we give is likely to be valued and remembered?

 

 

 

Mr Savile’s Crime and the continuing complicity in it

Sexual abuse seems to be about doing as much damage as we can to another human being without actually physically destroying them. That was the inescapable conclusion for me from watching BBC TVs 90 minutes documentary about the people victimized by Jimmy Savile on 11th April. We saw person after person whose lives had been reduced to turmoil by Jimmy’s interventions. Some had found a way through, in several cases after many years, sometimes through the support of another person or through finally being believed, but others had not. I find it impossible to measure the hurt that Savile did to so many people. It is impossible in some senses to grasp – it seems so massive and fundamental. It is difficult not to feel anger and hatred towards him but also to the powerful people who inescapably knew what he did and themselves did nothing to stop it.

A leit motif running through the programme was the case of a young woman who had been sexually abused as a young child seeking justice now. Perhaps the idea was to show how Operation Yew Tree prompted by Savile’s emerging crimes, had really made a difference. But at the end we saw her howl with pain when a jury rejected all five charges that related to her abuse while finding the perpetrator guilty of five other charges where both her and a friend had been abused and they could support each other’s accounts. Some sense that makes. Clearly juries still have some learning to do. And what continuing suffering will she have to endure. I hope her partner, family and friends can help ensure that that story has an end.

We have become familiar recently with the mantra that things were different in the seventies and that the unveiling of predatory disc jockeys, entertainers and other powerful and famous people was merely a sign of the times. No, adult and child rape and sexual abuse have of course always been with us. But they flourish under certain conditions. Conditions of unaccountability, discrimination and inequality. We’ve heard how young women were ignored in Rotherham and elsewhere despite being on the receiving end of organized sexual abuse operating on almost an industrial scale. I have read of US soldiers in the Vietnam War who used the opportunities that a brutal conflict involving civilians gave them to sexually attack children. I will always remember the certainties of a colleague of mine working with homeless people, that some boys working on the prostitution ‘meat rack’ in Piccadilly disappeared and were murdered in the late sixties and seventies to serve the tastes of powerful paedophiles. That’s a ghost that has still not been stilled, but equally has yet to be properly addressed and resolved.

I remember as a child watching an episode of a TV police series which left me haunted, so I can still remember its frightening impact now. That was because in this episode there was a ‘child molester’ who ended up killing a little boy. All very vague, little spelled out and all the more haunting for that. Since then we have learned that sexual attacks on children (and indeed women) – ones that end in murder and ones that don’t – can be very different from this stereotype. First we learnt that it wasn’t just strangers who attacked and killed children, but sometimes close and loved family members. Then we learned it could be famous, powerful people that we welcomed into our homes through our TVs. Not just people like Savile who many already found weird and disturbing, but people with warm and friendly images like Rolf Harris.

So what is the bottom line? There will always be people who want to abuse children sexually. Perhaps this is simply the nature of their sexuality. But what really matters is how much free rein people have to do this; how easy it is to get away with it. And mostly we know that what this is concerned with is how much or how little people who are victimized will be valued, listened to and believed. Not surprising that attackers like Savile haunted places of inequality and institutionalization; from TV studios to residential services, children’s wards and long stay hospitals. And not surprising that they choose people who are least likely to be listened to. This issue is not an isolated one. It connects very closely with the structures and internalized prejudices of our society. And the fact that those prejudices are so powerful and so readily internalized, means that for people victimized the struggles, guilt and difficulties are magnified even more. What Savile and co really tell us is that if we want to challenge sexual abuse we must challenge discrimination and inequality and we must treat sexual crimes as if they were more rather than less important than property ones.

Formula One, Disability and Social Care: time to rethink wealth creation

I want to talk about Formula One, disability, older people and social care today. Not a common coupling or choice of subject, but one that I think is way overdue consideration and offers us a lot of insights about our age and its values. Perhaps rather too many insights in some senses.

So first I must declare an interest. I cannot stand Formula One. I think it brings boredom to new levels. It should only be a global sport insofar as it is recognized as being able to bore world class. What it actually and too frequently is, is a procession of weird vehicles that bear no relation to anything else going round on four wheels, over large barren bits of perfectly surfaced blacktop, till the required number of ‘laps’ has been completed. It is also mind numbingly futile because you know that who wins is almost entirely a matter of which massive multi-national motor company at the moment happens to have developed the ‘best’ technology. Also it works according to ever changing rules in regard to engine size and other technicalities which again bear no relation to individual human ability etc.

I have to admit to another interest here. I love motorcycles, particularly older motorcycles. But when I watch motorcycle racing what I see are people rather than machines, doing the most amazing things, often truly dangerous things (if that is what you are after, which I am not) where the individual’s skill does still take precedence and where in all kinds of senses fans and racers are still a lot closer to each other.

But my point is this. Disability, older age and social care are all treated politically as though they are the lowest of priorities; the lowest of the low. They are presented as wealth consuming. Too often the people associated with them we know are offered as if they were dependent, inadequate and a drain on the rest of us. Thus the desperate desire to cut welfare benefits and social care spending. Formula One on the other hand is celebrated as if at the cutting edge; breaking new boundaries of technology; a real wealth creator on a global scale. Certainly it is something which seems to command the interest of men all over the world and have close associations one can only imagine with prevailing ideas of masculinity and machismo.

It also commands the interests of some of the biggest free market players, the massive oil companies; tobacco companies – still – and of course, financial institutions. And it is here we can begin to discern some truths about it. It is linked with those global free market interests most closely associated with some of the biggest problems and costs the world faces; environmental, social and political. Watching formula one is now largely a matter of watching a TV screen constantly covered at least 50 per cent with advertising – and that is ignoring the adverts all over the cars and the drivers’ helmets – all you mostly see of these generally rather boring figures.

And as for technological advancement. The future of cars lies in electricity – as far as there has to be a mass future for cars at all, which probably sadly there will be. And what does Formula One offer here? Not a lot, nor indeed in many other technological areas given that it has gone off in such an abstruse direction to drive these strange machines round pointless corners, chicanes and straights. Each team though, each car and driver has its own group of amazingly skilled engineers and others. This really is where no expense is spared and this ‘sport’ is associated with billions of money globally.

Meanwhile social care, disability and older people – that is to say the domain of many, many millions, is starved of resources, treated like a dustbin of human activity and endlessly marginalized and stigmatized. The expertise of the workers isn’t even recognized, let along rewarded. Well into the twenty first century many people still inappropriately in institutions, still die of bed sores (which we know only too well how to avoid and contain) because of the inadequacy of their support. Many more are restricted to their homes unnecessarily by their impairments. Many more face negative stigma and stereotyping which overshadows their lives and their families.

And how does Formula One by contrast really generate wealth? Of course it doesn’t. The interests associated with it are undermining the wealth of the planet and its sustainability. Every race we watch must create the equivalent of the pollution of billions of the plastic carrier bags we have been told not to use and to pay for instead.

Mindsets have got to change. Formula One is not an island – it is a demonstration project of the destructive effects of unrestricted ‘petrolism’ and the free market and the globalized big business associated with it. And disability, older age and social care should instead stop being talked down, us alienated from them and instead given the value that all of us have a right to expect of our lives and selves. That should be the mark of an advanced twenty first century not figures like Jeremy Clarkson, Chris Evans and other sad, date expired petrol heads.

A Tale of two welfare books and its worrying message

It is not often you get a chance to make a direct comparison between how the media and political institutions deal with what service users have to say and how they respond to yet more right wing ideologically based arguments. It’s even rarer to be involved in such a situation. But that is what I’ve lately been seeing first hand. My book All Our Welfare: Towards participatory social policy was published this year (http://www.policypress.co.uk/display.asp?K=9781447328940&ds=New+Titles&dtspan=150:150&sort=sort_date/d&m=12&dc=131 ). It’s the first attempt to critique the welfare state from a service user perspective, examining it warts and all and then building on user knowledge and evidence to explore the possibilities for a sustainable participatory social policy for the future. The second book in question is Adam Perkins’ The Welfare Trait: How state benefits affect personality (http://www.palgrave.com/us/book/9781137555274 ). You can imagine the kinds of effects the author is talking about and looking back to Mrs Thatcher and Charles Murray, you can guess the prescriptions he has to offer.

Not very interesting so far you might say. If I say it myself, the first book, mine, represents the first such service user critique of the welfare state: past, present and future. It makes very clear the shortcomings of the original post war welfare state, but equally makes very visible the appalling state of affairs under the pre-war poor law in the days when market was king. Mr Perkins’ book has nothing new to say if we are honest. It’s also not as though the all-conquering neo-liberalism of the present government and its Coalition predecessor are in any sense beleaguered and needing a cavalry like Mr Perkins’ to come to its aid. Let’s be honest recent governments have been undermining the welfare state with a determination that is alarming – unless we assume that governments are naturally at war with their least powerful, most vulnerable members – people like mental health service users, those with long term conditions, disabled people, disabled students, people with learning difficulties, their families and so on (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/22745).

Nonetheless, Mr Perkins’ book has been seen as having news value. It is becoming a darling of both right wing think tanks like the Adam Smith Institute and the prevailing right wing press (http://www.adamsmith.org/blog/miscellaneous/a-review-of-adam-perkinss-the-welfare-trait/). But it goes further than that. If All Our Welfare managed to gain 600 words in the left-of-centre Guardian (http://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/feb/16/future-welfare-state-shaped-by-service-users ), then Perkin’s opus has gained a full page with a pleasing photograph of the youthful ideologue (http://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/mar/09/adam-perkins-welfare-dependency-can-be-bred-out ). It is said that the book’s rise to prominence is on the basis of him being ‘no platformed’ at the London School of Economics. Sadly the LSE hasn’t offered me a platform of any kind which anybody has then needed to ‘no platform’.

Of course the rhetoric of advocates of individualism, extreme bioethics and the free market like Mr Perkins is that they are the spokespersons for freedom, the rights of the individual, consumer control and free choice. They present as marginalized, reviled and muzzled by a prevailing left of centre state apparatus and its media.

The truth, as this little story highlights, is that any attempt to enable ordinary people as welfare service users to talk about the reality of their experience, whether as disabled people, people with life limiting conditions or as children needing help, is likely to be marginalized, devalued and even ignored. Yet we know and all political parties, including the present party of government, subscribe to the rhetoric, that people as patients, service users and members of the public, should be fully involved in the development of democratic policy and services. That’s why I wrote my book, building on all the evidence that such people have developed as their own organisations, research and movements have emerged.

And that is why Mr Perkins’ dismal, poorly evidenced monograph will at best be another publishing blip and at worst just be used cynically by policymakers to oppress more disabled people and others. And that’s why we have to keep battling on to ensure that we have health and welfare policies that are democratically based, environmentally sustainable, properly resourced and shaped by the voices, rights and needs of people facing difficulties in our society, which Mr Perkins only undermines further.

 

Oxford’s Old Imperialism And Modern Exclusions

Yesterday we had a day out in Oxford. By coincidence this seemed to be the day of college rowing races on the river. We found ourselves in the middle of all this, watching the boats getting ready to set off; the University crowds watching them, the racing itself, and then the cheering when the boats came past and then the crews brought them into the riverbank and then lifted them out of the water.

Now I am writing this at a time when the poor economic situation means that the press headlines are that Chancellor Osborne plans more spending cuts. And so far we know that what that means is even more devastating cuts in key public services and also draconian reductions in levels and access to welfare benefits that particularly affect some of the most disadvantaged groups in society, including disabled people, mental health service users, lone parents and people without jobs.

Now we all know that Oxford University is very prestigious and internationally important. Students come there from all over the world.

What was striking as we walked about in the midst of all this rowing activity was that the dominant accent was ‘posh’. What was also striking was that almost everybody involved was white. I heard more American voices among students than I saw black people. Of course this shouldn’t be a surprise. Over the last year or two the failure of Oxford University to recruit black and minority ethnic students has made major headlines. We also know that while seven percent of the UK population go to private/’public’ schools, more than half the Oxford intake were privately educated. That is exactly how it sounded as we wandered about.

Of course one major change that has taken place in Oxford rowing is that there are now lots of women’s teams as well as men’s. But as for the class origins of those women, we know from the broader evidence it is likely to be very limited and biased to the privileged. Also we can guess that as rowing is a sport that is focused particularly in public schools, the students taking part may well also be particularly overloaded with entrants from public schools.

A few points emerge from this. How long are universities like Oxford going to stay world class so long as they recruit in such a narrow and biased way excluding black and minority ethnic and state school talent? Second, why should we be privileging them as charities with tax and other reliefs so long as this is the case. This looks like another example of a reverse welfare state. My long term University, Brunel University London, recruits a host of highly talented black and minority ethnic students and has none of the privilege and advantage or even status of Oxbridge. This seems pretty misplaced.

Finally the icing on the cake of inequality and injustice for me was to see that this event was very visibly sponsored by financial corporations, whose banners and flags were very much in evidence. That is to say it was subsidized by the very kind of financial institutions that led to this country’s economic meltdown a few years ago and resulted in the so-called austerity that has been used to attack poor and disadvantaged people. Shameful!

A battle is still going on in Oxford where some progressive students and activists are demanding the removal of statues of the appalling Victorian imperialist Cecil Rhodes. Oxford’s powers-that-be are resisting this determinedly. Not really surprising since the sense I had in Oxford yesterday was nothing so much as returning to a dreary divided world of Victorian over-privilege. Rhodes sadly is still as relevant of today’s Oxford as the Oxford he gave stolen riches to more than a hundred years ago. Oxford is said to be the home of lost causes. This will certainly be one of them.

Keeping Mad Studies Safe and Democratic

I just want to alert people to a new article where we have tried to discuss this point – keeping Mad Studies safe and democratic. Some of us mental health service users/survivors see a lot of hope in Mad Studies – in the UK and internationally. Already some good things are happening and loads of progress being made. But we are also very aware that each time people as service users or disabled people come up with a good idea, some organisations and some individuals try and undermine it. So Jasna Russo and I have written this and we hope it may be helpful to lots of other people – disabled people, mental health service users/survivors and our friends, supporters and allies.

You can read what we have written, free to download from Disability & Society. Please let us know what you think. All views and comments much valued. thank you.

Here is the abstract – that is what the article is about

Mad Studies is emerging as a new force in ‘mental health’ discourse and developments. Given the way in which other would-be progressive developments associated with attempts to include experimental knowledge in this field, such as ‘recovery’ and ‘peer support’, have been subverted, this article considers whether it is possible for Mad Studies to avoid this. Drawing on developments in Disability Studies and in relation to the social model of disability, we explore what can be done in order to safeguard the distinctiveness of Mad Studies and foster its unique contribution.

Here is the link to read it for free.

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09687599.2016.1145380?journalCode=cdso20

Musings On A Mad World

 

I called this blog site  Musings On A Mad World. Why that? I could have called it many things, for example,

  • What’s Wrong With Social Policy?
  • The Appalling Effects of So-Called Welfare Reform
  • Infamy Infamy, Why Does This Government Seem To Have It Infa Disabled People?
  • Why Are They Trying To Destroy The Welfare State?
  • Why is it always the most powerless people who are coming under attack?

and so on.

But there is a simple reason why I called it Musings On A Mad World. As someone who has had long term contact with the psychiatric system, and been involved in the world of survivor activism for many years now, I have increasingly come to feel that what I see around me routinely in our day to day world is more and more mad and increasingly maddening. By which I mean it makes no sense and it seems to be driving more and more people to distress, difficulty and even madness. And I wanted to make more sense of that and develop a conversation about the maddening effects of the kind of world we now seem to live in.

Every day I feel I am faced with such madness. It seems to be everywhere. Inescapable.

On TV, I watch poor white working class people in America say that Donald Trump is their hero and saviour because he is genuine, isn’t a politician, he is a business man and that must mean he’s more competent and better. No he is a property developer who has dispossessed people from their homes and he is not so much a business person as a boss. I ask those poor people do you usually sing the praises of incredibly rich bosses, don’t you usually complain that they take all the money and pay you peanuts? Do you really trust and value YOUR boss? I doubt it.

Or I see Health Minister Hunt explain that 50,000 junior doctors have all got it wrong and the contract he wants to force on them will be better for them, for the NHS and all of us – a man who has written in black and white to say the NHS should be privatized. And yet given the UK media, it is likely that many people will believe him. But if I ask them if a medical emergency affected your child, who would you turn to a politician or a doctor, I know who they will trust more and put more trust in and he won’t have MP after his name or Minister before it.

Or I think back to May 2015 and the Tories win an election even they thought they couldn’t win, given their track record, because enough people voted for them in enough millions. The same people who hate the bankers, hate the vast salaries and bonuses they give themselves, know the government does nothing about it, yet are more prepared to hate people on benefits who had nothing to do with the economic crash inspired by politicians and bankers which have damaged millions of lives.

This isn’t a crazy world? Where instead of hating the people and countries stoking up mass death and millions dispossessed in Syria, most people dutifully seem to turn their hate and anger against those fleeing such man-made disasters, as refugees and asylum seekers, even though they know they are dying in large numbers as they try and escape, through boats sinking and being drowned.

I mustn’t despair. I mustn’t give up on all this madness. So I have to try and make sense of it. I have to try and highlight it. I have to hope the conversation develops. So that is why I write this blog and that is why I have called it Musings On A Mad World. Please help me think it through and keep the discussion going and up front.

Sex, Violence, Drugs, death and Lies (but maybe not rock and roll)

Today I am going to write about sex, violence, drugs, death and lies. Are you still with me? I though you might be – with that kind of a starter. I’m trying to learn from the Sun!!

But seriously, I’m not really going to do that. But yes I am. Because I’m going to write about social care. And if ever there was a field of human activity which brought together all these headline issues then it is social care.

Here’s a field of human activity, policy, work and services, where all these five attention grabbing and fascinating issues come centre stage. It is just that social care just doesn’t tend to be seen like that. Instead it’s at best presented as worthy but dull. Yet talk to anybody who comes the way of social care as worker or service user, and you’ll quickly learn that sex, violence, drugs, violence and lies are absolutely at the heart of it.

It is a subject that can always command our individual attention because sex, violence, drugs, death and lies so often come into it. Yet – and here is the amazing paradox – so often it seems to attract minimal political interest, priority or resources. I’ll soon have more to say about that.

But first lets deal with the matter of lies. Social care is full of lies; full of official lies. These are lies about what government departments, ministers, even the prime minister, are doing about it; how concerned they are with shortcomings in social care support for say older and disabled people and how committed they are to rectifying it. And truth to tell starting with a long history of underfunding for social care, they have made it the target for particular cuts, victimizing anyone who needs its help and their families. Actually, it is difficult to find a public policy treated by politicians and policymakers with such disdain. So there are the lies; politicians’ lies.

Now let’s turn to the sex, violence, drugs and death I have highlighting and why I’ve done that. Social care work is involved in the most intimate, private, hidden and unmentioned aspects of our lives. Its workers may see us in our most unguarded moments, within our own four walls, naked, vulnerable and at our most defenceless. They help us deal with highly personal and usually private tasks. Social care’s professionals have to address and make the most difficult decisions about very frightening and secret issues of child and adult sexual abuse.

Some encounter and have to support people dealing with death and dying on a daily basis. It’s also about helping people (and those close to them) deal with the big problems arising from dependence on prescription as well as non-prescription drugs. Social care is about control as well as support, preventing violence, sometimes facing it and sadly sometimes responsible for it. All human life is certainly here. All taboos may be broached, from talking about people’s sex lives, to uncovering and helping with many layered debt.

And yet social care and its workforce are treated as of no importance. The rights and needs they are there to support and safeguard are given minimal political priority. Judging by the terms and conditions of most of their workers, they are seen as little more than menials. They have to deal with some of the most appalling personal and social difficulties. They may be all that some people have to turn to, to deal with the biggest and most frightening situations we can encounter as human beings. This includes every kind of loss: personal, relational, physical, emotional, intellectual, financial. It really is time that they were treated better. It’s time that more priority was given to the life and death issues facing the rest of us that we rely on them to help us with.

All Our Welfare: Towards participatory social policy

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http://www.policypress.co.uk/display.asp?K=9781447328940

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The Welfare State: what was that Mummy?

I have now written two blogs about worrying developments in the welfare state through so-called government welfare reform. Now I’ve a third that may be even more worrying.

In my first blog, I talked about the way policymakers made it difficult for people to access the support they need and are entitled to. The second highlighted that while government seems to want to restrict support to those they see as the most ‘incapable’, ‘vulnerable’ and let’s be frank ‘hopeless’, they make getting support a job that requires all the skills of a superhero.

Well now the point of this third blog. It’s a bigger and ultimately I think even more frightening issue. They want us to forget there was ever such an idea as we could turn somewhere for any kind of help and instead just believe we have to hack everything, every problem, every crisis, every emergency, on our own or with just the help of whatever family and friends we have. This is a terrifying prospect.

This idea first came to me when I met a group of American social workers; an enthusiastic and positive group, who had come over to the UK to learn more about what we were doing. We got on well and seemed to understand each other, but then when someone mentioned the NHS and they asked us to explain it, it became clear that we might have been talking to them in a foreign language they had never heard before.

They simply could not get their heads round the idea that they would get medical help, without having to pay for it there and then, be under an insurance programme or pay for it later in instalments. ‘What do you mean, you don’t have to pay?’ they said. ‘What you will get surgery and hospital stay and it doesn’t cost?’. When we explained that the idea was you paid in your taxes and all this was free at the point of delivery, they could neither understand nor believe it. It didn’t make any sense to them.

And I later realized that there was a similar incomprehension from the other side among Brits. We by and large seem not to be able to understand the idea of NOT HAVING an NHS. People absolutely take it for granted in one sense, if they greatly value it in another. But the idea that you have to pull our your insurance certificate before you get treated is as alien to most of ‘us’ as the alternative seemed to be to most Americans. Maybe that is why it is so easy for governments like Mr Cameron’s to privatize the NHS by stealth; to try and restrict access to ongoing support with ‘bright ideas’ like ‘personal health budgets’; to outsource more and more; to pay for it by ludicrously costly ‘private finance initiatives’ and so on. Then one day we wake up and are told that we will have to pay for more and more, pay more and more for it and the right wing think tanks will have got what they wanted.

And then I realized something very disturbing. I realized how much of the old welfare state we have already lost, without most people even realizing it. This is a measure of the shortness of political and collective memory. Obviously, there is no longer large scale council housing, which post-war transformed the quality of life and housing for millions. Now we are seeing a rundown of so-called ‘social housing’ left, which has become stigmatized, over-expensive and really only serving as a welfare state for the housing association chief executives who frequently pocket more than £100,000 a year. We have also seen social care services remorselessly closed down – after first charging was first introduced.

Universal funeral and maternity grants are now long gone and so is the severe disability allowance. Patients are now unlikely as in the past to be given time in convalescence homes to help them recover fully. Grants for moving or setting up home were first whittled down to loans under the ‘social fund’ and now are no longer available from central funding. We have seen the ending of undergraduate and postgraduate student grants which offered opportunities for higher education for all. The wonderful role of the ‘home help’ is now unknown to many. First established to help new mothers bringing up their babies, the role was then developed for older and disabled people. Home helps, cleaned and shopped, chatted and generally helped people maintain their independence. It was a ‘proper job’, with decent terms and conditions, based on an on-going relationship, instead of reducing domiciliary care as now, to a procession of strangers passing through people’s homes, on minimum wage and below and ‘zero hours’ contracts.

So people increasingly won’t even know what they have lost. And then we won’t even know we could have had it and once had a right to it. When that realisation is the norm, then people will expect less and less. Already there are threats to public parks, let alone school playing fields. Libraries are going left right and centre. Where I live schools are being closed down to make way for ‘luxury housing’ Instead of public byways, there are shopping precincts which are locked at night and ‘gated communities’. Bit by bit the infrastructure of public life, of a pleasing environment, will be taken from us and we will be brainwashed into reduced expectations. If you want this or want that, you should expect to pay for it. This is the road we seem set on.

I have greatly valued the words of one of my nephews by marriage about the welfare state and the manipulation of our attitudes about it. He has said:

I think a tax funded welfare state is part of the price of living in a civilised country, so in the same way we pay for roads we won’t drive on and street lights we won’t walk under, paying for a welfare state ensures at least a basic level of quality of life and options for people we won’t ever be familiar with, but would wish they would receive if we did know them. For the future, I think it is important that the welfare state is capable of treating the individual in the same manner we would hope someone such as a nephew or neighbour would be treated – by offering them sensible and suitable options relevant to their circumstances and supporting them in their aspirations.

Thank god for young people like Frank. We must hold on to that truth, otherwise we will end up as impoverished, fragmented and impoverished as our poor Victorian predecessors.

 

All Our Welfare: Towards participatory social policy

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All Our Welfare: A new way forward

An end to ‘their’ welfare reform and a vision of taking forward our own welfare as service users

Anyone who has been on the receiving end of welfare reform or heavy end services like the psychiatric and criminal justice system or residential ‘services’, is unlikely to need telling that policies that are supposedly meant to have a positive or ‘rehabilitative’ purpose, can be a lot more ambiguous, not to say unpleasant.

Social policy imposed from above

Some social policy student text books still talk about social policy as if it was something that was there simply to improve people’s lives. Unfortunately, from the Victorian poor law, through the eugenics movement, Hitler’s Aktion T4 programme which murdered many disabled people, more recent schemes to sterilize people with learning difficulties, right down to our own current so-called ‘welfare reform’ policies, associated with rising levels of suicide, mental distress, homelessness and poverty, we know that social policy can serve negative as well as positive purposes.

A revolution in development

But if such ‘welfare reform’ can be seen as one kind of revolution, another has also been developing over the years. This has been a revolution from the bottom-up, in which people on the receiving end of social policy, including some of the most disadvantaged and marginalized people, have played the lead role. And it is time that this revolution was granted the greater visibility it warrants, although so far, as a discipline, social policy has paid only limited attention to it.

It is a non-violent revolution; a humanizing revolution; a revolution which has determinedly sought to connect the personal with the political and make us all rethink what we mean by social policy and a truly universalist and progressive welfare state.

The emergence of welfare service user movements

This is the revolution whose green shoots first began to appear in the late 1960s, which developed in the 1970s and 1980s and is now a truly global development, with its own movements, organisations, histories, cultures, literature, projects, knowledge, research and pioneers. This is a revolution built from the grassroots by disabled people, mental health service users, older people, people with long term conditions, people with learning difficulties, children and young people brought up in state care and many more. These movements have developed their own ‘user led organisations’; their own ideas and theories for change, improvement and securing people’s equal rights and needs – in all their diversity.

Moving to real involvement in social policy

This isn’t the kind of revolution that makes front page headlines, but it has and continues to lead to fundamental change for all people. And it has had fundamental implications for social policy. Historically social policy has tended to be policy which one group of people have shaped for another – with those on the receiving end often having little chance to be involved in the process or to shape it as they would want to see it. Although overshadowed with rhetoric and false promises, what is fundamentally different about social policy now is that service users and their organisations have put down a marker that they want and should be involved in changes and policies that impact on them. We certainly aren’t there yet, but this is one genie which I believe it will be impossible to put back in the bottle, however much resistance and attempts at subversion it encounters.

Participatory social policy for the future

And it is being part of this movement that has led me to write All Our Welfare, which I think I can honestly described as the first such detailed attempt to offer a vision of a future welfare state/social policy that builds on what many service user movements and organisations have highlighted and already achieved. This is a welfare state not based on paternalism as it was post-war, or on a deregulated market – as current policymakers are pushing for it to be, but a sustainable, environmentally positive, life enhancing, participatory social policy that seriously addresses diversity- in its construction, in its operation and in its provision. This is a welfare state that crucially draws fully and equally on the wisdom of people who ‘know what it is really like’ from their own 24/7 experience.

In the book I have tried to explore the old and the new welfare state from the perspectives of those on the receiving end, including my own and that of my family and countless other service users. I have drawn on the experiential knowledge of service users, treating it as having equal value to traditional ‘expert’ or ‘professional’ knowledge. But most important I have sought to set out in detail how we might have a participatory social policy; what it would look like and why ultimately it would be better, truly economical in a real sense and better for us all and our planet.

I hope that this book is the beginning of a discussion. All comments, ideas, suggestions, improvements will be gratefully received. Thank you.

All Our Welfare: Towards participatory social policy

Find out more at:

http://www.policypress.co.uk/display.asp?K=9781447328940

 Sign up to get Policy Press’s Newsletter and get 35% discount on All Our Welfare

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