The Meandering Social Worker

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Archive for the category “Social”

Poor white kids fail to get the most out of school

There has been enough anecdotal evidence that children from certain ethnic minorities do better in our education system than poor white kids (and good for them too).  Now we have the evidence.  And it might be worse than we thought.

The Centre Forum opportunity think tank has published it’s first annual report, “Education in England Annual Report 2016” showing that poor white kids who start school above average and with good achievements still leave 11+ years later with below average attainments.  By comparison, pupils with English as an Additional Language (EAL) make significant progress during their school years.  Three groups do worse than white poor kids – they are White Irish travellers, White Roma and mixed-heritage Caribbean children.  Four groups do better: Black Caribbean, White Irish, Chinese and Indian children.  Two other features also leap out of the report: there is a north/south divide with pupils in the north generally achieving lower standards and pupils in coastal areas are also similarly disadvantaged.

But why?

Paul Mason, writing in the Guardian, makes some very relevant observations as he tries to make sense of the causes of this trend.  Referring back to the messages of the 1969 film Kes, about a working class boy learning to love and train a Kestrel, and the purpose that gave to his life, Paul Mason describes the annihilation of the ‘life story’ of the working classes in British society that started with Thatcherism and continues today.  Mason writes:

“It was not always the case that ethnic-minority children did better than white English ones, but the reason why some of them do now is pretty obvious: their problem – racism – is defined; their language skills tend to be well-developed; their culture is one of aspiration; they have social and religious institutions that promote cohesion.

By contrast, the problem of poor white kids cannot be properly defined: not in the language of freemarket capitalism, at least. It has nothing to do with being “overtaken” – still less with any reverse discrimination against them.

It is simply that a specific part of their culture has been destroyed. A culture based on work, rising wages, strict unspoken rules against disorder, obligatory collaboration and mutual aid. It all had to go, and the means of destroying it was the long-term unemployment millions of people had to suffer in the 1980s.

Thatcherite culture celebrated the chancers and the semi-crooks: people who had been shunned in the solidaristic working-class towns became the economic heroes of the new model – the security-firm operators, the contract-cleaning slave drivers; the outright hoodlums operating in plain sight as the cops concentrated on breaking strikes.”

As I look back over my memories of the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and since, I recognise the changes Mason is describing.

But what is the answer?  If you agree with Mason then it’s not entirely in the education system.  The education system has been tinkered with in so many ways over the years, and the debate between selection and non-selection continues in some parts of the country.  Academisation (or privatisation) has been declared as the way forward, even though many academies continue to ‘fail’.  University education for all has been heralded as the answer, even though clearly that cannot be achievable.  The raising of school leaving ages to the point of legal adulthood is considered by some to merely infantalise our young people and delay emotional and experiential adulthood. Our children have been ‘tested’ beyond endurance over recent years, resulting in league tables and a different kind of segregation.  Our education system has had so much attention lavished on it, yet still the ‘problems’ are not going away.

Mason concludes his piece with these words:

“To put right the injustice revealed by the CentreForum report requires us to put aside racist fantasies about “preferential treatment” for ethnic minorities; if their kids are preferentially treated, it is by their parents and their communities – who arm them with narratives and skills for overcoming economic disadvantage.

If these metrics are right, the present school system is failing to boost social mobility among white working-class kids. But educational reforms alone will barely scratch the surface. We have to find a form of economics that – without nostalgia or racism – allows the working population to define, once again, its own values, its own aspirations, its own story.”

We can’t go back, and for plenty of reasons we wouldn’t want to.  We have to find a way forward that enables ALL our children to have a decent education and access to opportunities.  As Mason says, it’s not about league tables, as useful as they are as measures.  Having taken the time to travel in other cultures I can step back and see what our society has lost, and it’s not education.  Identity and narrative, through culture, work, family and community are what gives children the framework on which to build their lives.  It’s what social workers do for individuals they work with.  It’s what society now needs to do for itself.

Conservative welfare “reforms” – the sound of one hand clapping

Politics – should social workers be involved in politics? Well, when your government is making policies that make your job even more necessary than ever before, then I think the answer has to be yes. Once again Kitty states the obvious:

“The Conservatives are systematically dismantling the UK’s social security system, not because there is an empirically justifiable reason or economic need to do so, but because the government has purely ideological, anticollectivist prescriptions.”

And the situation is just getting worse. “

Politics and Insights

1022654909“Labour MPs sat perplexed … By cutting housing benefit for the poor, the Government was helping the poor. By causing people to leave their homes, the Government was helping people put a roof over their heads. By appealing the ruling that it discriminated against the vulnerable, the Government was supporting the vulnerable.

Yes, this was a tricky one.” – From an unusually insightful article in the Telegraph about the incoherence of Conservative welfare rhetoric:  How bedroom tax protects the vulnerable.

“Ministers keep using the mantra that their proposals are to protect the most vulnerable when, quite obviously, they are the exact opposite. If implemented their measures would, far from protecting the most vulnerable, directly harm them. Whatever they do in the end, Her Majesty’s Government should stop this 1984 Orwellian-type misuse of language.”  – Lord Bach, discussing the Legal Aid Bill. Source: Hansard, Column 1557, 19 May, 2011.


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Refugees (un)welcome here

In response to an article in Take Part:

Here’s how I see it. The problem of refugees from Syria and surrounding areas arriving in large numbers on the shores of Europe exists, and all the NIMBYism in the world won’t make it go away. We have to understand the causes and find the best way to resolve the problem.

If the USA and parts of Europe hadn’t interfered in the Middle East and removed despotic but stable dictatorships, creating a void that could be filled by even more despotic but unstable terrorist groups, then the current problem, particularly with ISIS, would not have arisen in the first place. And all the time we continue to interfere the problems will continue. There are plenty of analyses that point to the rise of ISIS being a direct consequence of the actions of the USA and UK in Iraq long before Russia got involved (there are too many to cross reference in this blog but here is just one that appears quite clear to follow). And the flow of weapons and arms from the West to the Middle East is compounding the situation. For those reasons alone we have a responsibility to hold our governments and the arms dealers at least to account. And they have a duty to help resolve the problems they have caused, which will of course impact on us, the general population in the West.

In the meantime, whether we like it or not, there is a humanitarian crisis going on, on our doorstep. We can’t just bury our heads in the sand and hope it will go away. Not least, because our governments and arms dealers are continuing to exacerbate the situation while operating a smoke and mirrors dialogue trying to tell us otherwise.

The surrounding countries that are willing to take in the refugees (about half of those in the area and most notably NOT Saudi Arabia, one of the few remaining stable but exceptionally despotic countries in the region but whom we choose to call ‘friends’ and to not attack, no doubt for our governments’ own selfish economic reasons) are already saturated, far more than we can imagine if you look at the figures.

Most refugees and asylum seekers actually want to go back to their home countries eventually (and one is quoted here in this article as saying just that), but they can’t yet because they’ve been bombed on both sides into virtual obliteration. And with bombing and destruction still going on there would be no point in trying to rebuild what was once there. There’s little or nothing to go back to in many (not all, I agree) areas. Most want to work, such as the IT expert quoted in the Take Part article (above). Most just want to be with their families. You can see that too in this article and elsewhere. And family is a much wider concept to non-Westernised cultures than we generally understand in our modern world. It’s one we used to experience a couple of centuries ago but our modern individualistic / nuclear family lifestyles eroded it away. Many are actually originally from wealthier, educated, professional backgrounds (they’re the only ones who could afford the traffickers’ fees to get as far as Europe in the first place) with skills to offer and the ability to work and contribute.

Fears that terrorists are using refugees as cover for getting into the West are no doubt valid to some extent, although the evidence suggests that taking this dangerous and laborious route is not actually necessary: they have plenty of means of recruiting local activists through online radicalisation, and others have shown they have more reliable means of travel. One problem that could arise though, is that in reacting in fear and loathing towards the refugees and asylum seekers, they see in us a hatred and fear that makes them vulnerable to the hate preaching of the radicalisers. By our own actions and attitudes we could be turning them against us and into the arms of the terrorists. A second problem we are creating is that in further punishing the refugees and asylum seekers we are compounding all the psychological problems they have experienced through the wars in their homelands. This reduces their abilities to settle anywhere or rebuild their lives, and again makes them vulnerable to fundamentalist recruiters.

We have to step above and beyond our fears, our NIMBYism, and see the bigger picture. Building walls and blowing up bridges won’t stop the refugees coming and it won’t stop the reasons they are coming. We have to be a part of finding solutions that work for both the refugees and for us. To stop the wars and make their homelands safe places they can return to and rebuild. And right now, pitting ourselves against each other – bleeding hearts versus the wall builders – is allowing our governments to get away with continuing doing all the things that helped exacerbate this situation in the first place.

The destabilisation of society

The current UK government are marching forward in their dismantling of social support networks, while increasing the pressure on the poorest, the most vulnerable, the disabled.  Vast swathes of society are being crushed – how long before this reaches the point of the destabilisation of our society?

In today’s Guardian respected academic Ray Jones writes on the privatisation of child protection social work.   Elderly care and children’s residential care have long been taken over by the private sector.  Some local authority social work is already contracted out to small independent social work companies.  It won’t take much to extend this to more ‘front line’ roles.  Social workers take note.

It doesn’t need any referencing to know that our education system is well underway to being privatised through PFIs, Academies, Free Schools.  It doesn’t need any referencing to know that our NHS is being back-door privatised, this hits the news headlines so often.

In the meantime the impact of cuts are being felt, and felt hard.

The irony is, it’s private businesses, large and small, in the form of those whose staff receive tax credits due to low wages who are the real beneficiaries of the welfare benefits system.  Private landlords might feel the impact of cuts if tenants default on their rent and they have to go through evictions processes, but until now they too have been beneficiaries of the benefits system.

Local authority housing tenants are to lose their right to a home for life, having their tenancies reviewed at least every five years and facing the possibility of eviction if they are deemed not sufficiently in need of social housing, dependent on an income based means test with no apparent consideration for social or family needs, the availability of private rented housing, or the stress and disruption forced moves will cause.  What incentive does that give to take care of or improve your home or your community?  What opportunity does that give for ‘estates’ to mature and provide a secure base for younger families? For those who do remain in social housing, rent caps will be removed for anyone earning above a certain level, increasing their rents to the same as the private sector in their area. What incentives do either of these measures give to people to get work or promotion if it means potentially losing their home or having their rent massively increased?

Instead of having the desired effect of motivation into work, benefit sanctions, alongside insecure job contracts, zero hours contracts, enforced part time working, threats to cut tax credits before implementation of a ‘living wage’, have seen a rise in mental health problems, avoidable deaths, poverty, food banks, and local authorities having to provide pauper funerals as well as a rise in the use of S.17 (CA’89) funding to make up the shortfalls caused by cuts in welfare benefits and sanctions.

In the autumn Spending Review, following sustained political pressures, George Osbourne made a great show of reversing planned cuts to tax credits in advance of the implementation of a new ‘living wage’, but still hit the poor and vulnerable with other cuts such as to housing benefits such that some suggest they will be even worse off than if the cuts to tax credits had gone ahead.

In true Tory style, instead of recognising that government policies and cuts are causing the problems they are trying to ‘cure’, the government have continued to blame the poor for their own plight, and, in the March 2015 Budget, introduced CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) as a condition for continuing to receive benefits while job hunting.

What all this represents is a worrying move away from personal individualisation and a forced conforming to what is considered by the government as a desired ‘norm’.  This in turn is reminiscent of what happened in Germany under the Nazis leading up to the start of the Second World War.

This in a climate where the police have only just staved off crippling budget cuts, which will undoubtedly resurface again later.  Then, if they succumb to the pattern so far, once the police have been incapacitated by budget cuts and privatised as underperforming, there will only be the Army left to deal with a destabilised society.


References and other things:

Nudging the disabled into work

How cuts to local councils will affect you

Rise in S.17 spending due to welfare cuts

Coasting schools likely to lead to rise in academies

Tenants in England spend half their pay on rent

Outsourcing child protection

The new Work and Health Programme: the government plan social experiments to “nudge” sick and disabled people into work

A well researched look into the government’s pursuit of the sick and disabled to bring them, often in an unrealistic manner, into the workplace.

Source: The new Work and Health Programme: the government plan social experiments to “nudge” sick and disabled people into work

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