The Meandering Social Worker

wandering : wondering : learning

Archive for the tag “vulnerable”

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

As Christmas approaches …..

My heart sinks.  It always does as Christmas approaches.  I see the tinsel and trappings appearing in the stores, the job adverts for this year’s Father Christmases, the craft, cookery and home magazines appear with their recipes and ideas for home decorations, and so on.  I know the loan sharks will be rubbing their hands in anticipation of the extra income as poor families struggle to keep up with the false expectations of the happiness they can bring by buying things they can’t afford, and in reality don’t need, just because that is what the media circus is telling them.

When I was first starting out in social work, nearly 20 years ago, I remember a young mum telling me with great excitement that the Provie man had lent her £200 to spend on toys for her young son that Christmas.  My heart sank.  The best I could manage was a wan smile – she was just trying to do the best for her son in the only way she knew how and it was too late to undo the loan.  I knew it would take her all year to pay that back and it would cost her way more than £200 by the end of that year.  And no doubt by then most if not all those toys would have been broken and discarded.

Since then there has been the credit crunch or banking crisis, a world recession and a downward pressure on the poor under current political austerity measures.  With the threat of tax credit cuts still looming (although there might be some shifting on that) the outlook is bleak for whole swathes of society.  Pressure to be jolly and spend hard-earned money on things you can’t afford and don’t need is just as great, but the gloom and doom that follows as the bills stack up along with the extra debts in the new year will be even more crushing.

At the end of the day it is our relationships and our experiences that make us happy, not the stuff in our cupboards.

As a society we have been spun the lie that we need to keep consumerism high in order to keep the manufacturing industries going and the money flowing.  At the time of the 2008 financial collapse the economists were saying ‘we need to get the Chinese to consume more’.  But none of that is true – as this blog explains more fully:  Sure, if we all suddenly stopped buying the latest cheap fashion rip offs, changing our home decor every year because some fashion has changed or because we are enticed by some new decoration we see, if we all turned to the charity shops to replace our furniture, if we all bought fewer clothes but chose instead those of higher quality and wore them for longer, if we worked together and shared as a community more, then there would be an impact on manufacturing industries.  But entrepreneurs will find other ways of making money.  If we all bought less ‘stuff’ we would have more to spend on leisure, art, beauty, travel and the ‘stuff’ we buy would be of better quality, and those who remain employed in manufacturing could be paid more.  This was the vision of the early pioneers of technology: little did they realise then that we would chose instead the path of the materialism.  At the end of the day it is our relationships and our experiences that make us happy, not the stuff in our cupboards.

The poorest communities have always been better at the economies of reduce, re-use, recycle, restore, remake.  We’ve not seen it for generations in the West, although in the poorer Latin American countries this lifestyle is still thriving.  We need to re-learn these values.  We need to be able to teach our children to value what they have.  That’s not to put on them the pressures of adult money worries, but to teach them the lost skill of appreciating the value of things, instead of succumbing to the pressures of advertising, to always be wanting the next new thing.  And we have to model that for them.

And we need to learn these things ourselves so we can encourage those we work with to see through the lies that tell us to buy our way out of unhappiness.

It won’t solve the problems of a ruling elite that appears to have no concept (or care) of the impact of their policies on poorer and middle income earners.  We have to look after ourselves and we have to recognise that if there is to be change it will have to be from the bottom up.  Two recent (and still current) events may well spur that on: the migration crisis as refugees and asylum seekers pour out of war-torn Syria, bringing the reality of their situation to the shores of Europe and the attention of Europeans where it is the less-well off who are the most heart-broken and responsive to the sight of their suffering; and the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, showing that politics is not necessarily the preserve and interest of the elite.

 

She did not groom him

I am writing at the risk of adding yet more verbiage to the reporting on the latest unbelievable ignorance by a member of the judiciary.  I am of course talking about Judge Greenberg in her summing up of the trial of Stuart Kerner for having a sexual relationship with a 15/16 year old girl pupil.  Stunningly the judge admitted she did not really know if it was the right word to use as she suggested the girl had ‘groomed’ Mr Kerner.  It wasn’t the right word to use and now, fortunately, she will be subject to an inquiry.

But let’s take a step back and consider the aspects of the case that are publicly known along with what we know about child and adolescent development and normal human behaviour.

The girl was 15/16.  An adolescent.  It is normal for young people of this age to be developing their sexual identity.  It is normal for young people of this age to develop a ‘crush’ or ‘infatuation’ with one or more of the hopefully ‘safe’ adults in their lives (same or opposite sex), often at a ‘safe’ distance in the form of a pop star or football player, etc.  It is even normal for young girls to experiment with flirting with (heaven forbid) their dads, older brothers, uncles, teachers.  It’s a part of growing up.  It is not normal for those adults to respond by getting into a sexual relationship with that child/young person.

It is quite possible this schoolgirl thought she was in love with her teacher and acted in a way that let him know of her attraction towards him.  Assuming he is a normal male he would have felt flattered by the attention and sexual interest of a younger person.

But he was also a professional in a position of responsibility.  Another of those relational facts of life is that some (many?) women find men in a position of responsibility attractive.  Films such as An Officer and a Gentleman help illustrate this idea but there are plenty of everyday vicars and doctors and surgeons and police officers and therapists, as well as teachers, who have to deal with the attentions of vulnerable people who are attracted to them because of their position and role in society. That’s why these professions have codes of conduct.

Mr Kerner should not have succumbed to the flattery of the attention of a young girl.  He should have recognised his responsibility towards her as a pupil.  His own emotional vulnerability while his wife was pregnant should never have come into it. As a teacher concerned about a pupil’s behaviour and attentions he should have spoken to another, more senior, member of staff in confidence according to his school’s procedures.  He and his seniors would need to acknowledge that in a tiny percentage of cases the girl could have made a false allegation against him for denying her advances.  They should have worked together to support the girl and ensure that everyone was appropriately protected from an inappropriate relationship.  Clearly that didn’t happen.

This young woman, now 19, should be able to sit down with her friends and giggle over a glass of wine about the time she had a crush on the RE teacher, old Mr Kerner.  Instead she has to face the memory that he took her virginity in a cleaning cupboard and that some nutty old judge turned around and blamed her for it.

All heterosexual references above can equally apply to same sex relationships.

How poor is poverty?

In a world where poverty is measured in terms of material wealth, I have found myself asking myself this question again and again in recent years.

I think of the man living alone, in England, in a one bedroom flat with no more than a table, chair, bed and a few kitchen utensils to his name, yet with regular social gatherings with friends he can rely on he describes himself as completely content and wanting for nothing.

I think of the Andean mountain village community in Ecuador who struggle to raise the $2 per child charged by the school to provide their children with a bag of sweets and biscuits on the last day of term before Christmas, the only Christmas present those children will receive. The children make no complaint, they are no different from their peers. They live a life of daily adventure, exploring their environment, taking risks European parents would quail at, getting all the attention they need and want from their parents and extended families, with no shortage of food or clothing. Just no Christmas presents. To all intents and purposes theirs is a life of poverty, and even though they know they don’t have money to spare they only recognise themselves as poor when someone draws it to their attention.

I think too of the Mongolian nomadic people who could lose their whole livelihood when a harsh winter follows a dry summer, a combination that can kill off all their livestock. A harsh life that can be seen in their eyes, in a climate where the relatively rich (in livestock) can be brought into utter deprivation due to the circumstances of their climate. For this reason many have moved into the capital city where there is only a little evidence of wealth in a country that is innately poor.

One quartz miner's makeshift home.

One quartz miner’s makeshift home.

And then I see the home of a quartz miner in the mountainous deserts of Namibia: an old North American pick-up dragged high into the mountains, its wheels long gone, the interior seating beyond sagging; a mattress laid out in the flat bed of the rear of the truck, tent canvas spread out to cover the mattress and an area beyond that servers as a kitchen and eating area. A home has been constructed here. Inside it is clean and tidy. Nearby is a pit toilet, dug into the ground with three walls and a door for privacy, but no roof – a roof is hardly needed in a country where there is no rain. A huge water cistern stands on a trailer nearby. There is so much apparent hardship in this life, living conditions that some have described as appalling. The ground is barren, no food will grow here. When they have enough quartz to trade the miners drive into the nearby town, like the pioneers and gold diggers of the American West, their route worn as tracks through the rocky landscape, where they trade gemstones for money, food and water. How much choice do they have about their lifestyle? To me it seems hard and lonely – the miners are all men and most if not all seem to live alone in this barren land. It’s not a lifestyle I would choose but what would they say if we were able to ask them about living in poverty? Would they consider their lifestyles as deplorable as we might in the West?  They work hard and their basic needs for food and shelter are met.

As one of the last remaining traditional African tribes, the bare-breasted Himba women who live in the wilderness areas of Namibia’s Kaokoland trade posting for photos in exchange for basic foodstuffs such as sugar, salt and rice. Or at least those who live near the more well-used roads do. Those who live deeper into the wilderness know more the suffering of hunger, when the rivers rise and close the roads during the wet season, preventing the tourists, the people who pay for their photos with packets of food, from driving the flooded roads. The land is all but barren, crops are scarce. Some of the Himba have chosen to abandon their traditional lifestyle, moving instead into towns and villages, often selling the jewellery and crafts for which their people are known. Such transitioning is hard but that is no doubt better than experiencing the pain that can be seen in the eyes of the women when they look at their flaccid breasts that are not making enough milk to feed their babies as they beg you to take their photo so you will give them food.

How poor is poverty?  I make my own judgements on these situations, based on my own experience of living in a relatively wealthy country, although I am by no means relatively wealthy within that country.   What I see is that poverty and wealth come in many guises but, materially speaking, sometimes even the relatively poor can seem relatively rich, while sometimes the relatively rich are also insanely rich, in a world where material wealth often doesn’t bring emotional happiness or spiritual contentment but where severe poverty destroys lives and human potential.

Claimants Tricked Out of Benefits, Says Jobcentre Whistleblower

There was a time when the JobCentre was there to help people find jobs. When I went into my local JobCentre in the summer of 2012 to inquire about work opportunities I was pointed towards a computer terminal and told to get on with it. It was made clear this was normal practice, no additional help normally available.

The blog from Beastrabban\’s Weblog below shows comments on a Guardian report from 2011 about the practices of JobCentres. My experience from 2012 and since suggests not a lot has changed.

In my recent voluntary work in the autumn of 2013 I worked with people who are terrified of being sanctioned because they have not met JobCentre demands to apply online for a specified number of jobs every day or every week. Some of these applications often have to be made online via a specific website the JobCentre can access to track claimants’ activity. The website is cumbersome to use and prone to faults. It doesn’t matter if the claimant has never used a computer before, or even if they know how to turn a computer on let alone access the internet, let alone cope with clunky inadequate jobsearch websites. It doesn’t matter that many online applications can take an hour to complete for even the most competent computer user. They still have to achieve the target of job applications using a system with which they are either unfamiliar or not confident. There is no support or sympathy from the JobCentre. Instead the claimants are expected to enlist the help of friends or family who are more familiar with computers and the internet if that’s possible, or find their way to public internet cafes (where these still exist and can become quite expensive); or the alternative option of using UK Online Centres which are usually most easily found in libraries where they are over-subscribed and time limited to an hour (not enough to fill in a job application with ASDA which takes an hour and a half for someone experienced at using the internet – I tried it) and with only the minimum of help and advice available. In larger towns the voluntary sector is filling in the gap with UK Online provisions but funding is poor and dependent on volunteers, many of whom themselves are there because they need the work experience to keep the JobCentre happy.

Meanwhile a whole industry has been created out of this situation. Private agencies who are publicly funded provide work related training, the better ones having offices where clients can access the internet for job searches.

But the greatest damage is in the stress caused by fear of sanctions. In some people their stress levels have become so high it has blocked their capacity to learn even the simplest of things.

Stress can do that. It can block the ability to learn. I’ve been there myself, in a particularly stressful work situation where I was conscious of the fact that while I could continue to function on a day to day basis I was completely incapable of learning from new experiences or even make the best use of ‘reflective’ learning.

I’ve also seen the effect in others when I worked with refugees from war torn countries: intelligent men (and sometimes women) whose terrible memories and experiences were so overpowering they struggled to learn new skills that would help them settle in their new environment (this effect was well known at the time but I will have to find the links to any further evidence and add it here later – in the meantime there is reference to the effect of stress on learning at http://www.trainingplace.com/source/stress.html).

Targets and sanctions are the tools of the neoliberal, capitalist, managerialist, society and work environment that has been created over the last couple of decades. But it’s not effective. The weakest and more vulnerable, the already disempowered, are the victims of this society we have created. And it’s time we spoke up about the effect this is having.

Beastrabban\'s Weblog

This is another video from the Guardian’s Youtube channel. It’s an expose of how the DWP has set targets to get people thrown off Jobseekers’ Allowance. These revelations are made by a whistleblower, whose face is naturally shadowed and voice disguised. He states that there is competition between departments and offices to have the most people thrown off benefits. According to the Jobcentre employee, the staff have two option available for getting someone off benefits: either find them a job, ‘which is really difficult’, or have them thrown off benefits ‘which is really easy’. He states that the DWP deliberately targets the young, because of their lack of maturity and experience, the under-educated, and those with problems reading and writing, such as sufferers from dyslexia. They will not try to remove the tough and experienced from the benefits system.

Mike over at Vox Political has described Atos and the Coalition…

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