The Impact of Cuts
This is the month when the Chancellor will tell us where the axe will fall, so we are geared up both to expect pain and to be ready to howl when our favourite services are chopped.
We’ve received two contrasting emails. Responding to Jeremy Hunt’s comments on large families and the proposed benefit cap, the Chief Executive of Child Poverty Action Group, Alison Garnham, said, “The bankers who are most to blame for this crisis are getting billions in bonuses again, yet it is children in poverty who are paying the price. Forcing children into destitution on the arbitrary basis of how many brothers and sisters they have is abhorrent. As families brace themselves to discover whether their jobs will survive the cuts it is awful that those with larger families should face this extra anxiety. The numbers of very large families have declined tremendously over recent generations, so why pick on these few children and mark them out as deserving destitution. All children deserve to be valued and protected by the nation equally and it is a scandal that nearly 4 million already live in poverty.
Families with children have already suffered the greatest burden of the cuts so far, but children do not have the broadest shoulders and it is time for the Government to back off and target those who do.”
Powerfully argued, hitting the bankers yet again, though Alison Garnham did not say how many children in large families would be affected.
Then there was ‘research’, commissioned by www.BabyChild.org.uk. In all, 1,726 new parents were polled, and the respondents were asked to provide the cost of different aspects of their baby’s nursery from the flooring and cot, to mobiles and paint for the room. The average cost for equipping baby’s nursery came out at £1,085.07. We don’t want to be stingy to babies, but this strikes us as rather a lot.
The question we pose is: how do we get a realistic picture of the impact of cuts on children in general? On the one hand the fat cat bankers are contrasted with the poverty-stricken large families, and on the other we find that the average outlay of equipping baby’s bedroom is over £1k. If the average were £900, would babies suffer? How many parents really cannot afford a reasonable level of equipment for their babies? And how many are spending more than the basic necessities because they understandably want to provide the best?
The Funding of the Five Thousand
At a time of impending austerity, here is some good news about extra money. Boris Johnson has allocated a quarter of a million pounds to be spent on music lessons for 5,000 London children.
As he put it, “There can be no greater joy than being able to pick up an instrument and bewitch others with music, but many youngsters in the capital don’t get the chance to develop their musical skills. Although there are a great many examples of early and free access to music in London, ongoing affordable tuition is often disparate and patchy. As one of the world’s great cultural powerhouses, it is our responsibility to ensure that youngsters growing up in this city today can benefit from the world-class facilities and institutions we have based here.
“I hope that this fund will be the start of a return to a London of yesteryear, when musical education was of a high standard across the board and instruments were generously thrust into the hands of young people irrespective of musical prowess or parents’ ability to pay. Musical exploration should not be for the few, but for everyone”. We agree.
Culling the Quangos
When one read the leaked list of quangos which the Government wants to chop, one found an extraordinary range if titles – Boards for this and that which one had never heard of. Did we really need them all, or were they a sort of Chiltern Hundreds where politicians’ mates could be paid some pocket money to meet and have lunch in London once in a while? No wonder they seemed a ready target for cuts.
The problem with such a cull is that the people drawing up the lists cannot know them all, and the danger is that they take a Gatling gun to them, leaving some standing and some severely injured while others are mown down at random.
Having been arguing for a General Social Services Council since the late 1970s, we were sorry – but not too surprised – to see the General Social Care Council there. The suggestion that registration of professionals would be passed on to another body is small consolation. The services and the profession need a body to give them a lead, to set standards, to be a focus for consultation about good practice. The fact that the GSCC had management problems should not be held against it.
Now we hear that the quango cull won’t deliver any savings for years to come because of paying everyone off. We know that cuts have to be made, but we need them to be planned properly, and for their consequences to be thought through. Otherwise there will be lasting damage, and in 2020 everyone will be having to do all the work to set up a General Social Care Council all over again.
Has Social Work Lost its Soul?
We haven’t read Professor Eileen Munro’s report on social work yet, but we hope to report on it next month. The headlines suggest that Professor Munro is looking at the subject carefully, aware of its complexity and of the dangers of the unintended consequences of well-meant measures over recent decades. As a small contribution to the thinking on this subject we offer a contrast.
If you read Gabriel Eichsteller’s article this month on hermeneutics, don’t be put off by the word if you’ve not come across it before. The article is basically talking about the way in which professionals need to relate to their clients, being objective but remaining humane and trying to create bonds which will help the client. This involves dialogue to understand how the client sees things, their ‘story’, and empathy to get alongside them.
By contrast, reading recent social work files, what has impressed us is that when current forms have been filled in conscientiously by social workers, one still ends up with little sense of what the client is really like as a person, what their ‘story’ is, how they relate to the social worker, or what the social worker feels about, or for, them. The boxes which have been filled in are useful building bricks, but unless they are strung together to create a ‘story’, they remain a pile of bricks, not a house or a home.
Perhaps the problem is managerialism and the attempt to use resources as efficiently as possible. Take emergency duty and desk duty systems for example. There are obvious arguments for setting them up, and for the policies of closing cases promptly where possible, but the outcome can be that each time a client comes to their notice it is treated as a separate episode, and the result is that clients may make contact with (literally) dozens of different social workers. Unless their case is formally allocated, no one may have the responsibility to note the pattern of referrals which might start to tell the client’s ‘story’.
The question, therefore, is whether social work has lost its soul in trying to be efficient. Perhaps we need to give priority to hermeneutics, not systems.
Join the Dance
On 18 November 2010 a residential child care provider called Common Thread is organising a dance procession at the Scottish Parliament in support of Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People – Tam Baillie – who has organised a consultation called A Right Blether, which is designed to ensure that the views of all children and young people are heard. It will culminate in a national vote for thousands of people under 18 throughout November, the results of which will directly inform the Commissioner’s work plan for the next four years. For more information on the A Right Blether please see website: www.arightblether.co.uk .
Common Thread also hopes to demonstrate its commitment to the welfare of children and young people and their right to have a voice. This is outlined in Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which states, “Every child has the right to an opinion and for it to be listened to and taken seriously in matters that affect them”.
We understand that a demonstration of the dance can be found on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9SWlbuSQg14
and at the following website www.jointhedanceuk.com. More details on how to register for the event can be found on www.jointhedanceuk.com.
We look forward to seeing whether the MSPs join in.
A Real Job for the Lord High Almoner?
Years ago we knew of lady almoners. They were the forerunners of medical social workers, people who seemed to have been in post since the nineteenth century, dispensing advice and practical help to the indigent and needy. But we only came across the role of Lord High Almoner recently. The title sounds like something out of The Mikado, and it appears that his main role is to organise the Maundy money ceremony. The current holder is the Bishop of Manchester, Nigel McCulloch, who has held the post since 1997.
The job actually goes back to 1103, and the Royal Almoner’s role then was to distribute alms from the King to those in need. It was particularly important at the time of the Black Death. That role is now really filled by Iain Duncan Smith as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions with the billions of pounds of pensions and benefits which he oversees.
The Royal Almoner also used to be responsible for distributing deodands – goods forfeited to the King which were distributed as alms. Deodands were done away with in the nineteenth century. We think that Bishop Nigel should have this part of the job back. We have every confidence that he would do an excellent job distributing the money seized from drug dealers’ bank accounts or from top-slicing excessive bonuses from bankers’ pay. If the coalition government is wishing to encourage fairness, who would be better placed than the Lord High Almoner to even things out a bit?
Short of Ideas for Christmas Presents?
We have been informed that “Dave the Funky Shoulder Monkey, a cheeky robotic monkey equipped with ground-breaking, micro-electronic motors that allow him to move in a lifelike manner and interact with and react to people around him, has been awarded a coveted Gold Award from Toyology.co.uk. Dave has been flying off the shelves at Hamleys within weeks of his arrival and continues to impress toy critics with his wide range of 30 different moves, gestures and sound effects, allowing him to complete over 3,000 realistic sequences. Some his favourite actions include a high five, a handshake, a bored yawn, laughing, crying, and rudely – farting.”
Just what you want for Christmas: indistinguishable from some of the other members of the family on Christmas Day afternoon.
That’s how the notice board is headed outside our local Social Services office. It happens to be next door to a church. In these days when we are being encouraged to form partnerships, couldn’t they save money with a joint notice?
From the Case Files
The family have rent arias.
But they don’t make a song and dance about them.