The Meandering Social Worker

wandering : wondering : learning

Archive for the tag “society”

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.

Does the suit and tie matter?

Poor old David Cameron’s the butt of a few jokes at the moment, for his comment about Corbyn’s dress sense.  But he got it wrong.  He told a man to do up his tie when that man’s tie was perfectly neat and fastened at the time of the jibe. The comment showed Cameron’s prejudice and fear. And although not a standard suit, Corbyn’s jacket and trousers were a perfectly acceptable alternative.  In a world where few people have jobs that require the wearing of a suit and tie, the comment also made Cameron look a bit out of touch.

I feel a little sorry for Cameron (hear me out). He’s clearly not the brightest of his bunch – average yes but not the brightest. I also don’t think he’s as evil as some of his colleagues appear to be. He’s had a privileged upbringing and knows nothing of the experience of the majority, and he hasn’t got a cat in hell’s chance of having the genuine charisma that enables him to put a smile on the face of a woman who has just lost everything in a flood by putting his arm around her shoulders and singing happy birthday to her. He genuinely doesn’t understand why he’s not winning the popularity stakes. And I think he really believes he’s trying to do the best for the country and the people; he’s just seeing everything through his own privileged lens and is not able to see or understand the real impact of Tory policies. He doesn’t know how to handle Jeremy Corbyn and he’s out of his depth. He’s tried to imitate Corbyn’s personable videos and just looks wooden. He can’t speak off script, as Jeremy can, and this foolish comment about Corbyn’s attire proves it. The more I look at Cameron the more I think he’s just a puppet, a front man.

It’s the evil ones behind Cameron that are dangerous – and the reason we need to get this bunch of Tories out. The commentaries on Cameron’s slipped mask of geniality (in ridiculing Corbyn for his dress sense and showing up his privileged background and lack of understanding) are a lighthearted diversion but let’s not get distracted from what else is going on – Tory cuts to the poor, disadvantaged, sick, disabled and elderly; rising poverty, dependence on foodbanks and homelessness; privatisation of the NHS, education (aka academies) and increasingly Social Services. And now there is an EU referendum coming up.

Whatever your view of Britain’s EU membership, be aware that Brexit is also a backdoor vote for the devolution of Scotland and the break up of the UK – if the UK votes for Brexit then Scotland will demand another referendum and almost certainly opt for independence so they can rejoin the EU. The OUTers talk of making new trading partners but who is out there to welcome li’l ole England to trade, and don’t think the EU will not beat us with the biggest stick it can find if we vote out of the club.

The official Labour line is to vote to stay IN albeit for different reasons to the Tory party – worker’s rights, human rights and employment protection for starters. What they don’t add is that the EU is also one of our few protections against our own (current) despotic government. While the EU is a cumbersome, often fragmented, and sometimes laughable institution, on balance I believe we are better off staying in than leaving. At 15 I was too young to vote in the 1970’s referendum but I would have voted to have stayed out if I had had the chance. And until fairly recently I remained an ardent Eurosceptic. Forty years on and we live in a very different world: a globalised society unimaginable to us in the 1970’s and one that’s changing faster every day.  As we think about what to vote, let’s ask the question the old indigenous tribal leaders used to ask: what best serves the interests of this and tomorrow’s generations?

So, let’s enjoy for a moment the discomfiture of a Prime Minister who doesn’t get it and has made a foolish comment as a result, but let’s not lose sight of the bigger issues at hand.

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

Should social workers be political?

There was a time when that question didn’t need to be asked.  Social workers entered the profession knowing that the people they would be working with would, largely, be the poor and dispossessed, forgotten and unloved by society and so by governments.  Standing up for the rights of services users came with the job.  However, coinciding with the encroach of managerialism in the 1990’s so the political desire and muscle of social work has steadily weakened – at least on the front line: academics have, by and large, continued to bang the political drum.

Can it continue this way?  We live in a society where the ruling political class appears to be as far removed as possible from the reality of daily experience of large swathes of society.  It’s not just the traditionally disadvantaged, dispossessed and disaffected who are being impacted on by the austerity measures of UK governments since the global financial crisis of 2008/09.  The number of working poor has risen, dependent on tax credits, while there has been an exponential rise in the use of food banks.  David Cameron’s government squirmed under demands for evidence on the catastrophic impact of benefit sanctions policies, amid mounting anecdotal evidence of real hardship leading to deaths of people with chronic physical and mental health conditions.  Jeremy Corbyn swept into the leadership role of the Labour Party on an anti-austerity ticket, despite complete derision of him and his policies in the popular media.  Labour Party membership has since eclipsed membership of other political parties.  Corbyn has gone on to impress with his calmness, authenticity, and his doggedness at revealing the hypocrisy of government policies.  Regardless of whether you support him or his policies, there is no doubt he is having an impact.

With another financial crash forecast (and the evidence is compelling) the situation can only get worse.  The poor, disadvantaged, dispossed, and disaffected need champions more than ever.  Whether we work among children & families, adult services, with people affected by physical or learning disabilities, or mental health problems, we see the impact of poverty and austerity.  It’s not easy to fight the political fight when you too have been affected by years of managerialism, budget cuts, austerity, and frequently working way more hours than you are paid for, but maybe in the renewed interest in politics there will the re-politicalisation of social work long advocated by the academics.

References:

Tax Credits – there are too many news reports to cite here – however among the most recent has been the vote in the House of Lords which has delayed, for now, the implementation of cuts to tax credits before the implementation of a new national living wage.  George Osborne, responding to the decision in the House of Lords, made it clear that they will be continuing to pursue their policies and will be looking at taking action against the House of Lords to prevent such votes in future.

Labour membership – despite the claims that Jeremy Corbyn was a train crash waiting to happen for the Labour Party, party membership has continued to rise, something that began following their defeat in the May 2015 general election.  This has been reported in several places, including here in the International Business Times.

Benefit Sanctions – among the plethora of online news reports is this article in The Guardian.  It has got so bad that the UN is intending to investigate the UK government over benefit sanctions, as reported here in The Mirror.

Next financial crash – again reported in several places, this article in The Guardian brings the story up to date.

British values

Since Jeremy Corbyn’s entry into the Labour leadership race there has been a phenomenal rise in interest in politics, which I have been following.  I found this comment on a recent Facebook post that seems to sum up so much of how more and more people seem to be feeling these days.

Lydia Smith Dear Mr Cameron,

My children’s school has asked them to undertake a homework project on what “British Values” means to them. Although I’m happy to support them with their homework, I admit I’m struggling with the concept of “British Values” and what they are supposed to mean.

I want to tell my children that in Britain, we value our children because they are our future. Yet under this government, 3.6 million children in Britain live in poverty. Mr Cameron, as a direct result of tax and benefit decisions made by your government since 2010, this figure is set to rise to 4.3 million by 2020 (http://www.cpag.org.uk/child-poverty-facts-and-figures). And you have imposed massive cuts on Children’s Centres, which were designed to help lift the poorest children from poverty.

I want to tell my children that in Britain, we value and protect our environment. Yet, Mr Cameron, you are ignoring local government opposition and forcing fracking upon our country, which poses significant risks to our environment and risks poisoning our water supply. You are also failing to protect Britain’s national parks and protected wildlife habitats from destruction through fracking. You have cut subsidies for renewable energy, but continue to subsidise non-renewable and nuclear energy. What kind of environment can our children expect to inherit?

I want to tell my children that in Britain, we look after the sick, which is why we have a free healthcare system, the NHS. But Mr Cameron, our NHS is now in financial trouble, isn’t it. The NHS has just reported a £930m overspend in the first financial quarter of this year, and we both know that this is as a direct result of the actions this government has taken: short-sighted financial planning and sweeping cuts to the public sector. I find myself wondering how long the NHS, free healthcare, and therefore caring for the sick regardless of ability to pay, will survive under your government.

I want to tell my children that in Britain, we value our education system. But this year, your government introduced the most severe funding cuts to education in years, which has affected jobs, morale and subject availability. Since Michael Gove was made Education Minister, our government has attacked and undermined the teaching profession, making greater demands upon our teachers while cutting resources and funding. There have been hasty, sweeping changes to the exam system; my daughter worries whether her qualifications will mean anything at all once she leaves school.

I want to tell my children that in Britain, everybody’s right to education is valued. But since you have become Prime Minister, university tuition fees have trebled and you have scrapped maintenance grants for the poorest students. I now find myself wondering whether my children will be able to go to university at all, even if they are bright enough for Higher Education.

I want to tell my children that Britain values human beings over corporate greed. Yet you seem on the verge of signing up to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which would give enormous power to multinational companies at the expense of consumers and workers.

I want to tell my children that in Britain, we value disabled people and believe that they too make a valuable contribution to our society. Yet you have practically removed all of Britain’s support structures for disabled people. In fact, because of your government’s violations of the rights of disabled people, Britain is the first country ever to face a high-level international UN inquiry into its breach of disabled people’s rights.

I want to tell my children that it is a British value to offer help and sanctuary to those who have nothing because they are fleeing war or persecution. Yet we are now facing the largest refugee crisis since WW2 and the UK houses just 1% of the world’s refugees. Of 4 million Syrian refugees, just 143 have been resettled to the UK. Furthermore, in 2010, the UK pledged to end child detention for immigration purposes, yet just last year, 40 children under 5 were held at detention centres in the UK. (https://www.refugeecouncil.org.uk/tellitlikeitis)

I want to tell my children that in Britain, we value human rights. But your government wants to scrap the Human Rights Act, so your government will be able to overrule the European Court of Human Rights, meaning far less protection for our people from human rights violations in the UK.

I want to tell my children that in Britain, we value our laws which are designed to protect our people and our environment. Yet one of the first things you did as Prime Minister was remove and weaken many of our existing laws, benefiting business at the expense of individual people and our environment.

I want to tell my children that in Britain, we value freedom of speech and freedom to protest so that when good people make bad decisions, we have the voice and power to speak up against what is happening. Yet what use is freedom of speech when the British government callously ignores even widespread opposition to its decisions? What good is the freedom to protest when you pass laws to silence British trade unions and pressure groups? There is no such thing as freedom of speech or protest when you make people afraid to speak out, Mr Cameron.

I want to tell my children that British Values mean being brave and kind, tolerant and inclusive, caring and sharing, honest and integrous. Yet these are not exclusively British Values, Mr Cameron, and – it must be said – values which are hardly being demonstrated by the current British government. These are values that are intrinsic to being a good person, regardless of nationality. You don’t have to be British to be a good person. The reverse is also true: not all British people are good people, Mr Cameron.

When I asked my young children what British Values meant to them, their response was, “We are brave and kind and honest. We care and share. We look after our world. We care about other people. We look after babies and children, people who are sick, poor people, disabled people and homeless people.”

If even the youngest children in our society understand that these qualities are something British society should aspire towards, why doesn’t the British government?

A society is only as good as the way it treats its weakest and most vulnerable members, Mr Cameron, and I’m very sorry to say that I could not find any examples of my children’s “British Values” in your government. Where do I even begin with the hypocrisy of trying to instil “British Values” into the next generation by a government who fails to lead by example? Perhaps we are trying to teach “British Values” to the wrong people.

Thankfully, bravery and kindness, tolerance and inclusion, caring and sharing, honesty and integrity are being nurtured in the next generation, without the need for these values to be labelled as “British”. Perhaps, Mr Cameron, you should spend more time in British classrooms, in the presence of our children and our teachers – you might actually learn something. Then again, I rather suspect you are beyond redemption.

 

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