Oxfam calls for crackdown on tax evasion to tackle UK poverty

Today brings the welcome news that Oxfam have joined calls for more to be done to tackle tax evasion in the UK, and for the money recouped to be channelled into reducing poverty. They estimate that the tax coffers lose out by £5.2 billion a year due to offshoring of assets by wealthy individuals. They give the following examples of how this money could be used if recovered:


Oxfam tax evasion UK poverty


Read their report in full here.


Adoption: Threats And Divisions As Gove Loses Patience

We’ve known for some time now that as far as working with children in care are concerned, adoption is the government’s absolute priority. A series of announcements over the past 15 months or so have focused on different aspects of the process. Last week came the latest and potentially most radical, where failing authorities could be stripped of their powers, which would be handed to the voluntary or private sector. There’s £150m purely for adoption, new resources but it’s not new money because it comes from cash previously earmarked for early intervention. Michael Gove just got serious.

The new money for adoption is £150m previously earmarked for early intervention, an area where Surestart and other preventative initiatives that aim to keep families together have already been decimated. A few days before this announcement, Eric Pickles stated he wanted to cut resources available for troubled families. The agenda could not be more stark – prevention and keeping families together is less important than adoption. With devastating irony, this most ideological of decisions uses money specifically set aside for evidence-based initiatives.

Politicians and practitioners agree that the shortage of adoptive carers has to be robustly addressed but surely not at the expense of other children in need. The government’s attempt to say that one sector in need is more important than another smacks of the way their divisive language around the welfare and employment debate tries to set working people against the unemployed, the rest against the “shirkers and skivers”. Child care is a continuum, with support for keeping families together at one end and adoption at the other. They may appear to be poles apart but in fact they are part of the same whole, far more closely related than is convenient for the governement to acknowledge.

Evidence shows that large numbers of children come in and out of care. In foster care, for example, providers have noticed that the rise in placements due to the higher numbers of children coming into care has been accompanied by an increase in the number of short-term placments, where children then return home. It is easy to forget that the original intention of section 20 of the Children Act where children and young people can be accommodated with the agreement of their parents was designed to maintain the ties between children and their families rather than close the door, and that families could use accommodation as a service, a week or two’s respite while they sort out problems with the help of their social worker so that the child can return to where they belong, in a safe, caring home. The Act became law in 1991 but sounds like ancient history. I may as well be writing in Sanskrit for all the sense those last few sentences make in 2013.

On a personal level, as someone who has worked across the whole spectrum but more recently in fostering and adoption, I feel dirty, as if I’m using money that’s been pinched from a child’s piggy bank. This is how awful this low, underhand and cold-blooded financial conjuring makes me feel.

The decision encapsulates all that is wrong in that dark, dank place where politics meets planning for children’s services. These are themes I’ve written about before. Prevention leads to better services and saves money in the long run whether it’s children in care, health and safety or gritting the roads before forecast snow falls. Yet for the government, any government not just this one, there’s little reason to invest in the long-term because another administration will reap the benefit, be it another government or perish the thought, another lot of politicians from another party. Yet we will know the success of our work with children in care only when they are well into adulthood, and anyway, even then people change as they grow older.

Adotpion czar Martin Narey, now Sir Martin, said this week that if even half the children on the waiting list are adopted, that would produce huge savings. He’s right of course, and he’s right to say that children should not have to languish in care with only the hope of a family to hang on to. Where I fundamentally disagree is that one element of the continuum should be prioritised at the expense of another. The twin goals of long-term savings and better choices for children and families for children in need of help from the state could be achieved by investment in early intervention as well as in adoption, not instead of. Also, even if the adoption backlog were cleared, there are others coming through the system in greater numbers than ever before. They too will need placements and the resources to find them. Further, adoption is not the only route to permanence. Evidence demonstrates the value of long-term fostering for many children and for their carers who receive support throughout the placement. These placements cost money but the children are worth it.

I am delighted that the government has made the welfare of children in care a priority, the first to do so in recent memory. However, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that for this long-term, complex issue they are seeking a quick win, the headline and the soundbite that goes with it.

More irony: government proposals in the pipeline won’t grab the headlines but are far more interesting and relevent for me as a practitioner because they directly address many of the problems in the existing system. Most important is the review of the court process that maintains a steadfast focus on the needs of the child within a clear timetable and minimises drift. Support for adopters will increase, with a look at personal budgets so they can decide what their family needs and how to sort out any problems. The purpose of the new national Adoption Gateway is to make it easier for prospective adopters to find out more. Changes in the inter-agency fee place the voluntary sector on the same level as authorties, thus widening the pool of adopters. Finally, there will be more organised gatherings of prospective adopters and children, sometimes called adoption parties. This is a direct result of an evidence-based study by the British Association for Adoption and Fostering that was properly researched, funded by the voluntary sector and fully evaluated. Taken together, these initiatives will do nothing but good. I fully support them. Evidence not ideology.

Every now and again any system in any organisation needs a good kick up the backsidebut in my experience, threats are far less effective than committed, considered leadership that understands a problem and sets goals for change. The government has quickly tired of what it sees as intransigence in the sector. Last week we heard that councils who do not respond will find adoption services removed entirely from them and placed in the hands of the voluntary and private sector. The appearence of the private sector is noteworthy. This requires a legislative change as private companies are not able by law to become adoption agencies.

Once more we are seeing divisions rather than partnership. The voluntary sector wants to work alongside local authority partners. Legions of dedicated, able local authority social workers want to find more adopters, not to be excluded from the whole process. We have to work closely with communities to find more adopters, for example more black adopters, rather than becoming ever more distant. Change must be accomplished by working with the sector not against it.

The Socialist Workers Party and the Collapse of Cults

This post is rather off-topic for this blog. However, I’ve recently been doing some family therapy training, which involves a lot of discussion about how systems change. Although I’ve kept the theorising to a bare minimum here, this post is fairly heavily influenced by the thinking I’ve been doing about systemic theory.

I’ve just come back from a short break in Prague. While there, I took the time to visit the Museum of Communism (handily situated between a McDonalds and casino, and opposite a Benetton!) and educate myself about the 1989 Velvet Revolution, when the downtrodden masses of Czechoslovakia finally seized enough momentum to overthrow the Communist dictatorship. The museum contained heartbreaking footage of peaceful protesters being bloodied and battered by police thugs. All the brutality didn’t change the outcome though. The game was up, the regime had lost its authority and quickly fell. The name of Vaclav Havel, the revolution’s de facto leader (and the country’s first democratic president) now graces the airport I flew in and out of.

Arguably, the Communist regime of Czechoslovakia could be seen as just another form of cult. A self-serving clique that operates according to its own internal logic and values. As is so often the case with cults, it was no secret that the emperor had no clothes, but it took a certain set of circumstances and critical mass to bring about a collapse.

The topic of cults interests me, and as it happens we’re currently seeing an ongoing collapse of a cult, in the form of the Socialist Workers Party. As I discussed a couple of weeks ago, the party is in deep crisis after a female party member accused a senior figure, “Comrade Delta”, of raping her. Rather than reporting it to the police and entrusting the matter to the “bourgeois court system”, they formed a committee of Comrade Delta’s colleagues, who promptly found him not guilty. A large section of the membership, including many who were previously slavishly loyal, are now in open revolt over the matter.

The SWP have always had a reputation for being a somewhat strange and at times unpleasant organisation. Anyone who’s been involved in protest events will have had experience of them turning up, handing out placards and leaflets, and generally trying to take over. Their communication style has always been rather didactic and top-down with supposed wisdom handed down from the party leadership. The membership has always been small and often transient. People have a habit of joining in a fit of idealism, and then leaving somewhere down the line out of disillusionment with the control-freakery and intellectual stultification. The result is that those who stick it out long-term tend to be the worst kind of groupthink drones.

As is so often the case with cults, it can produce some amusingly bizarre group dynamics. In among the various online discussions about the crisis, I came across this comment by a former member.

At its most extreme, the sycophancy appears cult-like.  A number of [Central Committee] members are big fans of jazz music. Under their leadership over the past few years, the party has organised a number of (mostly loss-making) jazz gigs as fundraising events.  Regardless of their own musical tastes, comrades were told they were disloyal if they didn’t purchase tickets.  This elevates the cultural tastes of the official leadership to a point of political principle; and clearly is not in any way a healthy state of affairs.
Incidentally, the SWP’s favourite jazz musician Gilad Atzmon has published a blog post in defence of Comrade Delta and the SWP. His response to the rape allegation is – I kid you not – that it’s all the fault of the Jews. If I haven’t critiqued his argument here, it’s because it’s so obviously contemptible.

In spite of the authoritarianism, the bizarreness and the jazz, the SWP has attracted a surprising quantity of celebrity alumni over the years, like a low-rent Scientology. One wonders what current and former members such as China Mieville, Mark Steel,  Laurie Taylor and Paul Foot, all obviously-thoughtful and creative individuals, saw in such an intellectual cul-de-sac. Then again, they also have alumni such as Garry Bushell, Peter Hitchens, Julie Burchill and Rod Liddle, who simply seem to have swapped one set of thuggish certainties for another.

As is usually the case with cults, and was certainly the case in Communist-era Czechoslovakia, the rottenness was in plain view for all with eyes to see. Indeed, the rape allegation seems to have been rumbling along for years. The collapse of the cult is not due to a revelation of truth, but a systemic collapse due to a loss of internal cohesion. As in the Czech revolution, the SWP hierarchy made its attempts to restore cohesion, in one instance expelling four members who had a Facebook discussion about the allegations. Whereas previously the system was sufficiently robust that this would be sufficient to return it to its previous state, there was now enough chaos in the system that this only added fuel to the fire, giving impetus to change. Again, a similar effect happened in the run-up to the Velvet Revolution, with police brutality driving more outraged citizens to take to the streets.

If you wanted to get into systems theory about it, you could say that this was a case of a negative feedback loop turning into a positive one, thereby producing what’s referred to as a second-order change. The change will not be of individuals within the system, but change of the system itself.

Insiders on the British left seem to think that the SWP is likely to survive in some form or another, for the simple reason that they have a surprising amount of financial resources for such a small organisation. They suspect that the endgame is likely to involve a battle over who controls the cash. Even so, the party is likely to be fundamentally changed. Their own miniature Velvet Revolution now seems unstoppable.

Unfit to Care: Dinosaurs and Bad Apples

[Guest post by Connor Kinsella]

At great risk to the reputation what has always been one of the more respected organs of the health and social care blogosphere, I’ve been invited to contribute to the Not So Big Society blog. This may turn out to be about as welcome as a knighthood for Piers Morgan, but before I outstay my welcome I want to draw attention to an issue which, in public at least, remains remarkably under-discussed. It’s more than just the Elephant in the Room. It’s a bloody great dinosaur crouching on the mantelpiece belching loudly while everyone sits on the sofa wondering what’s happened to Patch the family Labrador.


I come to this subject on the back of a previous NSBS post. In Nursing Degrees aren’t the Problem, Zarathustra looks at poor care and the perceived erosion of compassion within the nursing profession, often attributed to the elevation of nurse training to degree and diploma level. The ‘too posh to wash’ argument is, as Zarathustra points out, thoroughly flawed on a number of counts, but one highly significant issue raised in the piece is the seeming impotence of practice tutors, mentors and academic supervisors to weed out the sort of students who really shouldn’t be let loose on an ant farm let alone caring for the sick and the vulnerable.


Failures in care can and do arise from the sort of systemic factors highlighted so ably by this blog among many others. Poor or non-existent resources, savage cuts and the sort of target-obsessed management twonks who punctuate every other sentence with ‘going forward’ are never going to further the cause of good quality care. But many years of mental health nursing and social care training delivery have left what is (to me at least) one undeniable conclusion. There are far too many individual workers who are simply not up to the task of working professionally and appropriately with vulnerable people.


And I’m not talking about the headline makers: the Shipmans and Allitts, nor the ‘care’ staff of Winterbourne View. I’m looking toward the day-to-day awfulness of the sort of workers who, as Zarathustra points out, could and should have been rooted out at an early stage long before they have gone on to cause misery to every patient, client, service user and colleague that has the misfortune to cross their path.


If you’re reading this as a health and social care professional, you probably know who they are. The ones who attract enough complaint letters to wallpaper a small room. The ones who know better than decades of random-controlled trials and decide that the holistic tree-bark infusion they read about on the internet is so-oooo much better at treating depression than “any of that CBT and medication nonsense.” The ones who think of clinical supervision as a) a tool of Satan or b) a personal affront to their professionalism and years of experience. And the ones who seem to think communication skills are the ability to post snaps of their buttocks on Facebook but who can talk to neither colleague nor service user without causing them to run sobbing to the nearest cupboard.


In the first (and ultimately overlong) draft of this post I embarked on a trip down memory lane to describe my fantastically dysfunctional intake of student Registered Mental Nurses way back in the early 1980s. This was as ghastly a bunch of ne’er do wells, inadequates, love addicts, perverts, substance misusers and pure textbook psychopaths as were ever let loose on the mentally ill.


But this was a skewed sample. The old institutions of the sort where old-timers like me first cut our mental health teeth were replete with flawed characters, and my cohort of student drama queens and underwear sniffers (yes, really) went barely noticed among the general monstrosity of a Victorian asylum. But as time went on and my clinical and training career took me to all corners of the health and social care universe, I really did begin to wonder what it is about this most demanding of fields that attracts so many unsuitable staff. Whether it’s damaged people seeking self-help, taking solace in working with those even more fragile than themselves or (more worryingly) meeting a need for power and control over society’s most vulnerable, this is perhaps a research study yet to be carried out. For even the power of Athens and Google fails to yield much in the way of answers.


Not that having the odd psychological peccadillo is always a harbinger of bad care. Some I have worked with have used difficult life experiences to very appropriate and professional effect without compromising those professional boundaries which are so often crossed by the wayward.


This is where we return to Zarathustra’s post. In particular a paper cited there (forgive the repetition) which I read at the author’s recommendation and can highly recommend again to anyone reading this, particularly if you have any responsibility for mentoring or supervising students, probationers or junior staff.


Kathleen Duffy’s 2003 Failure to Fail paper is the ‘go to’ qualitative study of factors influencing the assessment of nursing students’ clinical competence. Or more to the point, incompetence. If you’ve ever wondered how the care equivalent of Dr Mengele can somehow manage to hop from one disastrous placement to another without sanction, the all too familiar quotes from mentors and lecturers have the sort of chilling resonance that will ring bells for any care professional who has experienced student placements featuring laziness, disinterest, lack of empathy and even personal hostility and threats but have been too ‘nice’, too ‘conscientious’ or in some cases, even too scared to criticise or fail a student. This is indeed an eyebrow raising paper.


But sooner or later we come back to the big picture. As we’ve seen only too graphically at Winterbourne View and Mid-Staffordshire, dysfunctional environments may not be the genesis of dysfunctional staff but can certainly provide an environment where the bad apples can fester and even flourish.


In one NHS Trust I worked for, it was common for poorly performing clinical and/or managerial staff to be shuffled off to a desk, given a laptop and assigned to some ‘special project’ with a Mickey Mouse job title and the licence to carry on irritating and hindering people to their heart’s content, only on a less damaging scale than they achieved as manager of a ward.


On the other hand, the more successful, therapeutic environments I’ve come across over the years do things a little differently. Strong leadership is demonstrated by canny recruitment, proper and functional supervision, and a robust approach to casting aside those who haven’t the competence or attitude to care.


It is of course difficult to simply rid ourselves who aren’t performing to the required standard. For starters, what is the required standard? We can easily identify the member of staff who is consistently late or doesn’t turn up at all, but how do we tribunal-proof the getting shot of that care assistant with the interpersonal skills of a sofa, or has an attitude to superiors leaving managers checking the underside of their cars for bombs?


Please don’t go having nightmares about bad apples or even that dinosaur on the mantelpiece, but make no mistake. They’re out there. 

That Old Chestnut

[Guest post by Sharon Levisohn]

Mother came home from hospital on Friday, having been in over Christmas and New Year. She has advanced COPD (emphysema) and had a respiratory virus that resulted in pneumonia.

However, her lengthy stay was not due to her illness – a week of steroids and antibiotics settled that insofar as it could be – but the inability to plan a discharge to meet her ongoing needs. The hospital wanted to send her home with three (local authority funded) home care visits plus daily district nurse calls. The social worker could not authorise the home care package without it “going to panel” and of course there would be no more panel meetings until January 7th. Then the hospital suggested a nursing home placement but, despite full-time oxygen dependency and limited mobility, my mother did not meet the criteria for a funded admission. Next they suggested a short admission to a cottage hospital. That was rejected as they thought, frankly, that the journey would kill her. Plan D was to be discharged home with the support of the (health-funded) Re-enablement Team; however, she was not open to this as her condition was too far progressed for rehabilitation. All this time, Mother was in an acute bed – one of those infamous bed-blockers – on a ward with confirmed Norovirus, while the family and I rode the Waltzer of uncertainty and conflicting updates, always aware that she might just give up the long battle with COPD.

What is the point of this personal anecdote of woe over the festive period? I suppose it is not a unique case; even on the ward there were several other patients unwillingly playing the Cherchez La Femme game of discharge co-ordination. How many patients and families in how many hospitals were going through similar experiences? What vexed me – and as a former nurse I am not criticising the frontline ward staff – was that the hospital did not seem to know what qualifying factors were applied to the various options – one might have assumed that they had confirmed Mother’s eligibility before informing her and the family only to dash their hopes. The other bugbear is the responsibility for funding. Surely, if a risk assessment has shown that a frail elderly terminally ill patient has been assessed as needing input from various agencies in order to be at home with the people and dogs and personal touches she loves, which give her a little quality of life, and if we believe that it is better for the elderly to live at home so far as is possible, surely then the funding needs to be provided? Or shall we simply abandon that principle as practically unviable?

The Looming Crisis at the UK Council for Psychotherapy

In recent months I’ve covered the way in which complaints are dealt with (or not!) against psychotherapists, with the result that misconduct or even abuse can continue unrestrained. In particular I’ve looked at the John Smalley case, in which the UK Council for Psychotherapy, after three years of delay, found seven allegations proven against a Jungian analyst, but failed to issue any sanction.

Complaints handling at the UKCP has for years been dominated by “crony-ism and amateurism” – not my words, but those of the former UKCP chair Andrew Samuels. But I’ve just noticed some interesting developments that may well send the UKCP sleepwalking into a crisis. It could even threaten the existence of the organisation itself.

Psychotherapists, unlike doctors, nurses, social workers or teachers, have no statutory regulator. “Psychotherapist” is not a protected title and anyone can call themselves one. However, in practice most are registered with self-regulating bodies like the UK Council for Psychotherapy, the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, or the British Psychoanalytic Council.

The UKCP is an umbrella body for 75 separate member organisations. Until recently, if you wanted to make a complaint against a UKCP-registered therapist, you first had to complain to their member organisation, and could then appeal to the UKCP if your complaint was rejected.

These 75 organisations have a wide variety of complaints processes. Some of them are absolutely shocking. The way to make a complaint can be very opaque. You may find that complaints panels have no lay members, so that the case is being heard only by the therapist’s colleagues. In some cases complaints have to be proven to the criminal standard of “beyond reasonable doubt” (the usual standard of proof is the civil one of “on the balance of probabilities”). For some organisations, if your complaint is rejected, you can be expected to pay legal costs!

To give an example, when I looked into the Smalley case, I contacted his UKCP member organisation, the Independent Group of Analytical Psychologists. Their website contains no information about how to make a complaint. Their Code of Ethics isn’t published on the site – I asked for a copy months ago and still haven’t got it. Oh, and if you’re wondering why they don’t publish an online list of fitness-to-practise outcomes on the site (in the way that bodies like the General Medical Council or Nursing and Midwifery Council do) it’s because they freely admitted that they haven’t sanctioned a member for years. I can’t imagine why not.

The UKCP is currently moving towards a new Central Complaints Process (CCP) that will handle all complaints instead of the member organisations. After the IGAP found “no case to answer” in the complaint against Mr Smalley, the complainant appealled to the UKCP, who found that the IGAP’s decision had been “perverse and incorrect”. They then ordered a new hearing under the CCP.

The new CCP turned out to be a shambles from beginning to end. It took three years of delays to reach a conclusion. At the end of it, the panel found that Mr Smalley had smoked in therapy sessions, he had made derogatory remarks about one client to another, and he had breached professional boundaries by inappropriately setting up two clients in a business relationship with each other. Along the way, he freely admitted that he had destroyed his notes – an act that would be considered serious misconduct if a doctor or nurse did it.

The UKCP’s sanction? Nothing. Not even a caution. Although he resigned from the UKCP during the proceedings, he’s still registered to this day on the IGAP website.

 The introduction of the UKCP’s Central Complaints Process comes in the wake of plans to properly regulate the psychotherapy profession. Under the previous Labour government, proposals were made for plans to register counsellors and psychotherapists with the Health Professionals Council (now the Health and Care Professions Council) which currently regulates occupational therapists, arts therapists, clinical psychologists and social workers. Although many psychotherapists welcomed this, a noisy campaign was launched, claiming that the sky would fall in if psychotherapists had to be accountable for their actions in the same way as just about every other helping profession.

After Labour gave way to the Coalition, plans for state-regulation were shelved, and the anti-regulation campaigners cheered a victory. However, the Coalition then proposed a new systems of “assured voluntary registration”. The Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence (the uber-regulator that oversees bodies like the GMC, NMC, HCPC etc) was renamed the Professional Standards Authority and given the power to issue an official rubberstamp to self-regulating bodies like the UKCP…..if they were deemed to be doing a good enough job. 

Key to getting this rubberstamp from the Professional Standards Authority is the UKCP’s new Central Complaints Process, even though it failed abysmally in the Smalley case. However, the most recent UKCP bulletin suggests their strategy may be running into trouble.

The UKCP chief executive, David Pink, issues a stark warning.

I can understand that organisational members might be nervous about handing over their complaints work to a team in the UKCP office, but it is vital that we take this decisive step. However diligently and carefully a member organisation handles complaints, they can never been seen to have sufficient independence to be free from accusations of bias…I am disappointed that many of our member organisations seem to be reluctant to engage with the central complaints scheme.

I’m really not surprised that there’s a lack of engagement from member organisations. Last May I e-mailed the Independent Group of Analytical Psychologists to ask them if they would be signing up to the CCP. I got this reply.

Since the UKCP Central Complaints Process is not yet finalised, it is too early to say if IGAP will sign up to it or not, but is likely to do so if it is felt to match our professional standards and has nothing that contradicts our existing Code of Ethics.

Hardly a ringing endorsement. And given the gasps of horror from some member organisations at the possibility of state regulation, it wouldn’t be surprising if some of them started dragging their heels over signing up to the CCP.

Pink gives a stark warning of what this might mean.

By this time next year we need everyone to be signed up to the central complaints or in the process to becoming signed up. By then, other leading reputable therapy organisations (including BPC and BACP) are likely to be fully PSA accredited. Employers, referrers, commissioners and clients will begin to expect practitioners to be on  a PSA-accredited register as a minimum requirement. We must not fall behind.

And indeed they may well fall behind. To give an idea of how the UKCP compares to its rival organisations, here’s the hearings page for the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy. It gives detailed accounts of hearing outcomes and sanctions against therapists who’ve committed misconduct.

Now have a look at the equivalent page for the UKCP. There’s only one entry on it! It’s for Derek Gale, a notorious abuser who was registered with the UKCP as a psychotherapist and with the Health Professions Council as an arts therapist. The UKCP stuck him off in 2009, but only after the HPC struck him off first.

Until recently there were two entries – the other being for Geoffrey Pick, suspended from the register in 2011 for an unspecified breach of boundaries. He’s now back on the UKCP register and his entry in the complaints archive removed. As for John Smalley, the UKCP don’t intend to publish the hearing outcome until Spring 2013, a year after the final ruling.

The UKCP have been failing for years to protect the public from rogue therapists. It now looks like they’re having trouble getting their member organisations to sign up to their new complaint system, which is a shambles anyway. No wonder they’re getting worried that rival bodies like the BACP will get the PSA accreditation and they won’t.

If that does happen, the results will be utterly predictable. All the reputable psychotherapists will promptly sign up with the BACP, leaving the UKCP to shrivel into a rump organisation housing the quacks, hucksters and chancers of the therapy world. I can’t say I feel the least bit sorry for them.

Normal Service Will Not Be Resumed

Listen to ministers and you could be forgiven for believing that although cuts in the public sector are necessary, services will be maintained. It’s true, change in social care isn’t just a matter of throwing money at the problem and despite resource shortages we all know that whatever area we work in, efficiencies are possible. In reality, where resource allocation filters down through layers of bureaucracy and policy to the point where workers and users meet, these assurances are worthless. Last week I came across two examples where cuts in one area will have adverse consequences in another.

Children and Young People Now reported that local authorities’ spending on child care staff training was cut by over 40% last year. Four authorities have no budget at all. I suspect this does not come as too much of a shock to anyone who works in the public sector because training budgets typically take a hit whenever savings are required. However, it comes at a time when more and better training is recommended in each and every area of social care in order to increase standards and improve the service. It’s a staple of each report, every service review, all inquiries. I’ve often heard the argument that such cuts protect frontline services. Clearly in the long run they undermine them.

Another example concerns the impact for some foster carers on the changes in eligibility for housing benefit. From April, foster carers living in social housing will not be able to claim housing benefit for bedrooms occupied by fostered children and young people. It’s sparked a frantic rush of agitated audits as local authorities work out how many placements this will affect. The context is an existing shortage of around 8,700 foster carers as estimated by the Fostering Network. This change could reduce current numbers and deter potential new recruits. It will affect inner city authorities badly – off the top of my head, Southwark for example has over 65% of its properties as social housing.

The intention behind the change is to deter under-occupation, basically to not subsidise empty rooms. This will compel many to move from homes and communities where their families have been brought up because their children have grown up and moved on. In terms of children in care, according to the HB rules, foster children are not classed as permanent members of the household. Also, between placements the room is unoccupied. Therefore, no benefit will be paid.

This is not a deliberate policy, and that’s my point. Changes made for other reasons by another department in order to meet their savings target could have serious consequences for foster care in general and for children and young people in placement in particular. If carers can’t afford to carry on, children may have to move.

The Fostering Network have campaigned on the issue and there is now a £5m discretionary fund that in theory is available to compensate for any shortfalls. Minister Edward Timpson, who grew up in a family that fostered, is genuinely sympathetic and has promised to keep highlighting the problem but the FN is concerned the cash could be swallowed up by the larger housing pot and not reach its intended target. Anyway, when the words ‘benefits’ and ‘discretionary’ are linked, forgive me if I harbour grounds for scepticism. 

There’s no conspiracy here, rather the unintended consequences of resource-led decisions. Different departments have different agendas and priorities. Yet the devil is in the detail. I’m certain that nobody planned to undermine foster carers doing vital work for the vulnerable, they just didn’t bother to look too closely at the implications of their decision-making.

This is serious. The government is trying to create a myth that decent levels of service can be maintained with inadequate resources. Sure, we can all do better, and every professional I know is determined to put everything they can into their work in 2013 on behalf of users in defiance of the cuts. However, the government has to understand this simple thing – there is a limit as to what is humanly possible. The demands on services and professionals for higher standards are greater than ever, and rightly so, but if we don’t have the tools to do our job, there’s a limit. What really hurts is, the government know the truth but carry on undaunted.  


Generic Condemnation of This Thing That Person Said on Twitter

Words cannot express the outrage I feel after reading this thing that person said yesterday on Twitter. Such comments are a clear betrayal of the principles of Insert Cause Here, as well as being deeply socially irresponsible.

I have already been sufficiently outraged that I’ve had to write a blog post. If I get any more angry I may have to set up a Tumblr.

I am also surprised by the silence of Insert Prominent Tweeter Here over this issue. Their failure to comment on this thing that person said may well be a sign that they secretly agree with them. I tweeted them 20 times repeating the same question in different wordings, and they promptly blocked me. I can’t imagine why. I’ve already posted several tweets expressing glee about having been blocked. Later, I will be engaging in one-upmanship discussions with other tweeters about who we’ve been previously blocked by.

I’m also shocked by the failure of the mainstream media to cover this issue. It’s as if they don’t care about this thing that person said.

I hope you’ll all join with me in getting off the fence and giving your unequivocal condemnations of this thing that person said. I think we can all agree, what they said was worse than the Nazis.





Calling all Health and Social Care Writers

Given Ermintrude’s announcement today that she’s retiring from blogging, this seems like a good time to put out an invitation to those with an interest in health and social care and feel like they have something to say.

Ermintrude’s retirement is by no means the end of this blog. There’s not only me writing here, but also the likes of Politicalnurse, Gary, Bonklesoul and Abe Laurens. Over time our traffic has grown from 2,648 views in October 2011 when the blog was first set up, to 14,468 in November 2012 (the traffic reduced a bit in December due to Christmas, but has rebounded strongly in the new year). I see no reason why the Not So Big Society can’t continue to grow and develop.

Even so, Ermintrude was and is an informed, incisive and prolific writer, and her departure leaves a gap.

So, if you’re interested in such topics as health, social care, social policy, poverty, inequality and the occasional dollop of small-p politics, then this invitation is for you to come and write for us.

We don’t have a “house-style” as such. There’s not a minimum or maximum word length for blog posts, though I tend to think anything over 1500 words is probably better broken down into a couple of separate posts. Obviously, posts shouldn’t include anything offensive or libellous, and writers are expected to adhere to the social networking guidelines of any professional regulators that they’re registered with.

Interested? Leave a comment to this post, or e-mail me on thus_spake_z at hushmail dot com