Grenfell Tower represents the culmination of Thatcher and all who follow in her neoliberal footsteps ….. Time for change

Commentator, after commentator have made political links to the manmade tragedy that befell the innocent residents of Grenfell Tower. Within such commentaries the authors refer to the ideology of ‘neoliberalism’, which whilst well known to economists, politicians, Guardian readers and academics (like me!) is rarely thought about in wider society. Yet its impact on society over the last 40 years is immense, and for me Grenfell Tower represents all that is wrong with this insidious ideology that does more harm than good.

But, what it is?

Firstly, I think it is important to be aware of the power of  ideology, and neoliberalism, because it provides government with  a  framework which shapes its ideas, ideals, values and beliefs about the world, what motivates individuals, and provides a guide on how life should be lived, how society should be structured and our role in society.

In short it determines the nature and limits of that state, what matters and whom.

An example of the power of ideology can be seen in religion. Religious values and beliefs  shapes its organisation and provides motivation for the actions of its leaders and believers. As we know all to well religious ideology can lead to intolerable acts of violence, whether it be the Christianity of the  Klu Klux Klan or the Islam of ISIS.

Just as religious ideology can be a strong motivator in shaping thoughts and actions, so to is the  political ideology of neoliberalism.

There are a number of strands to neoliberalism which are, arguably, as relevant as the cladding on Grenfell Tower in understanding why so many lives have been destroyed. In political terms neoliberalism depends on, firstly, stigmatising those who require support and then disinvesting in the public services that provide their support to promote open unregulated markets and the transfer public services into the free market.

This has resulted not only in the deregulation and privatisation of publicly owned assets, such as housing, but also the transfer of responsibility for those requiring public services away from government, so that when, as in this case, there is a failure in the system,  holding someone to account is almost impossible due to a diffused chain of responsibility government has put between it, and the individual,  by creating a host of intermediary layers of officials and organisations , such as management companies, contractors and sub-contractors.

A key tenet of neoliberalism is the role of free market in delivering everything from baked beans to iPhone to cancer care. The free market is highly valued by neoliberals because it is viewed as a more efficient system in providing goods and services and promotes individual liberty by empowering society through consumer choice.

In the case of Grenfell Tower, the extremes and limitations of these beliefs are starkly revealed. Not least in Brandon Lewis’s comments regarding regulation to enforce the installation of sprinkler systems in tower blocks.

Mr Lewis, recently promoted to immigration minister by Theresa May, had declined in 2014 to force building developers to fit sprinklers. The coroner’s report into the 6 deaths after a fire in a block of flats at Lakanal House had recommended regulations be updated, and called for developers refurbishing high-rise blocks to be encouraged to install sprinkler systems. But five years later, Mr Lewis told MPs:

“We believe that it is the responsibility of the fire industry, rather than the Government, to market fire sprinkler systems effectively and to encourage their wider installation.”

He said the Tory government had committed to being the first to reduce regulations nationwide, pledging a one-in-two-out rule. He added:

“The cost of fitting a fire sprinkler system may affect house building – something we want to encourage – so we must wait to see what impact that regulation has.”

Even after the controversy when these comments were publicised  Micheal Gove’  still held to the neoliberal ideological line when interviewed in respect of Grenfell Tower, suggesting that it is a matter for “debate” that government should regulate so that people could have safe housing conditions.

Whilst some might find such comments incredulous, these responses are wholly consistent with neoliberal ideology, which promotes the commodification of everything from  housing to education to health, to social care and more worryingly clearly includes ‘risk’.      This combined with limited regulation of the free market and an unshakable belief that all consumers can exercise free choice  to control, or eliminate,  risk is concerning.

Those in power do not seem able, or willing, to recognise there are  flaws within the neoliberal  ideology they so zealously adhere to, that authentic consumer choice is often a facade in important areas of life, such as housing and health and social care, that individuals cannot always eliminate risk because of the governments hand in creating structural inequality, which restricts the individual autonomy and consumer choice they purport to support, unless, of course you are very wealthy.

The powerlessness of the residents of Grenfell Tower to exercise autonomy and choice is seen in their inability to challenge decisions around whether a sprinkler system should have been installed and this exposes the interplay  between the structural and personal realms of life. Peter Weatherby QC is one of Britains top lawyers, and he suggests a key action of government had been overlooked in this tragedy, the swinging cuts to legal aid. Residents of Grenfell Tower had sought to challenge  decisions being made, and residents did try to get a lawyer, however,  they could not get a lawyer because of cuts to legal aid, according to campaigner Pilgrim Tucker, speaking on BBC Newsnight

“These are poor residents – or they’re ordinary residents. They’re not 
the wealthy. They’re not the Camerons. They can’t afford private 
schools, they can’t afford lawyers. They tried to get lawyers but,
because of the legal aid cuts, they couldn’t get lawyers. ”

Other lawyers have also pointed out the role of legal aid cuts in this tragedy.

However, again, this is consistent with neoliberal ideology, why should the state fund legal aid?

This is actually structural abuse, which is defined as ‘the process by which an individual is dealt with unfairly by a system of harm in ways that the person cannot protect themselves against, cannot deal with, cannot break out of, cannot mobilise against, cannot seek justice for, cannot redress, cannot avoid, cannot reverse and cannot change’

I think this sums up the plight of the residents of Grenfell Tower pre and post fire!

Albert Camus wrote “We must mend what has been torn apart, make justice imaginable again in a world so obviously unjust….. ”, going onto suggest mending a broken world is ‘steadfast, often unglamorous work – it is the work of choosing kindness over fear, again and again…’

To mend the broken in this society,  those marginalised through poverty and  homelessness, or through age and fragility, to ensure we never subject anyone to the horrors of those lives ruined in Grenfell Tower we all need to be more aware of the ideology that underpins our current system of government and decide if it is fit for purpose, and where we find it lacking, find new ways of governing.

Replacing Theresa May with Boris Johnson or Micheal Gove or A.N . Other will not mend our broken society because politicians all seem to adhere to the same ideology – neoliberalism.  Nothing will change until this insidious ideology is revealed and challenged by us the people, and we hold our politicians to account for their actions.

Let the fate of the individuals of Grenfell Tower be a lesson to us all, and lets ensure their tragedy is never forgotten. We need real change for all our futures.

Tories brand millennials as ‘hard left’ – good! It’s time for real change ….

A recent headline in the Daily Telegraph suggests something needs to be done to save young voters from the ‘hard left’ ….

The article in The Daily Telegraph suggests the young  need reminding of the benefits of a Neo-libeal economic system. Stating ‘millennials’ need to be reminded that the free market has filled their world with iPhones, Just Eat deliveries and  internet dating, and they should be thankful!

The benefits of the free market and a neoliberal economic system are further extolled by the author suggesting  free markets create the wealth to pay for the welfare state.  Not wholly the case, I thought the disproportionate tax low earners pay, compared to the rich, also funded our public services?  The free market also provides full employment, the author suggests, although it does not mention the multitude of jobs with no future or meaning the young languish in, zero hours contracts, low wages and ongoing insecurity which prevents millennials seeing a future, let along planning a future.

Ways of wooing millennials away from the ‘hard left’ are explored, firstly by tackling extortionate student loan interest rates, increased this year to 6.1%.  Ummmm, hasn’t neoliberal ideology,  making education a commodity to be bought and sold like baked beans,  created the student loan process in the first,  and given providers free reign to set interest rates? Tackling rising housing costs is identified as another area to focus on to woo millennials away from the ‘hard left’.  Ummmm, aren’t rising housing costs due to the free market and Neo-liberal ideology also?

These minor points aside….., there are further  suggestions, such as  millennials should be given shares for nothing, and government should deposit £10,000 in an Isa for 18-30 yr olds.  Not sure how this would be funded, but possibly from  the much maligned ‘magic money tree’ ….. which should’nt be a problem as our hard up government managed to magic up £130 million for a snap election we did not need!

Another fab suggestion is that millennials should be given a copy of Hayek to inform them of the positives of  neoliberalism and the free market.  The same system that has led to nearly 10 years of austerity, tuition fees, unaffordable housing, increased use of food banks, zero hour contracts  etc etc ….???

I wonder if hard left millennials might like to read something that offers an alternative perspective, albeit from those pesky lefty Nordics.   The United Nations World Happiness Report 2013 shows that the happiest nations are concentrated in Northern Europe. The Nordics are ranked highest on the metrics of real GDP per capita, healthy life expectancy, having someone to count on, perceived freedom to make life choices, generosity and freedom from corruption. Imagine freedom from corruption…ooh arrgggh

Neo-liberalism is all pervasive, it is like the air that we breathe, invisible and ever present, but, increasingly only life enhancing for the rich elite. As George Monbiot suggests

We internalise and reproduce its creeds. The rich persuade themselves that they acquired their wealth through merit, ignoring the advantages – such as education, inheritance and class – that may have helped to secure it. The poor begin to blame themselves for their failures, even when they can do little to change their circumstances.

Never mind structural unemployment: if you don’t have a job it’s because you are unenterprising. Never mind the impossible costs of housing: if your credit card is maxed out, you’re feckless and improvident. Never mind that your children no longer have a school playing field: if they get fat, it’s your fault. In a world governed by competition, those who fall behind become defined and self-defined as losers.

All I know is I am thankful for the voice, and votes, of our millennials, because you are giving me hope for the future …. Thank you.

 

 

 

 

 

Who pays for the obesity crisis …..?

‘The real cost of poor quality food should include the cost to the NHS in diet related illness, but of course the food industry do not pay the true cost for this, this is disproportionately displaced onto the individual consumer via the taxes we pay to fund our health care system….’

As Channel 4 ,  Dispatches , highlights Theresa May’s watering down of governments obesity strategy it is time to reframe the discourse on ‘obesity’.

Regulating the food industry is about more than people being ‘fat’, it is about the role an active state should play in society and the fallacy of ‘choice’ as a panacea .

The current discussion on the food industry must not be overshadowed by the ‘obesity’ debate because there are much bigger issues at stake here, not least the accountability of the food industry and the role government should have, if any,  in regulating the food industry to protect the health of the nation.  By narrowing the focus on obesity we risk  reducing the debate to stigmatizing those who are overweight, and focus too much on individual responsibility.  For once could  the debate also include corporate responsibility.  Whilst Politicians might make noises about supporting free ‘choice’ I would rather see decisive action from government because I trust the food industry about as much as I trust the banking industry, which is zero percent.

Just look at the food labelling debacle, which dragged on for over two decades  The coalition government announced in October 2012 that a consistent system of food  labelling  was set to be launched, however, it was not quite a done deal with food producers still holding back.   Cadbury, amongst others, spurned the ‘traffic light’ system suggesting it focused too much on the negative ingredients in their food, i.e. sugar.….REALLY!

But it is not just about food labelling, more importantly it is also about the food production process. For example research suggests high salt intake is associated with significantly increased risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease, so to reduce risk just reduce salt in take, easy.  However, the same research also suggests high levels of salt intake is related to food production processes, rather than individuals adding salt to their diet, and the biggest barrier to reducing significant salt intake for individuals  is the historical reluctance of the food industry to reduce the levels of salt used in food production.

The seriousness of this issue must not get lost in tabloid headlines about ‘obese’ people.  Any talk of government taking an interventionist approach is met with cries of ‘nanny state’ from the Tory right who use this as a pejorative term to describe excessive state action.  Those who support free markets object to the use of state power in this way perceiving such an approach as restricting individual choice.

Governments approach to this issue is ideological, whilst for some intervention from government represents the worst excesses of the ‘nanny state’, to others it represents an ‘active state’ coordinating an approach to promote public health for its citizens, rather than protecting big industry from taking responsibility for its actions.

A first step might be to regulate the removal of excessive sugar from food production, this would  benefit public health. We need such intervention because we can not trust the food industry, the average consumer can not fight against the unethical and unhealthy practices of large corporations. I feel very strongly the government should undertake a strategy akin to tackling the tobacco industry, because the potential damage to our health from sugar added to our food parallels that of nicotine.

A rise in the cost of food is an interesting argument presented by government and the food industry as an argument against healthier food production. The real cost of poor quality food should include the cost to the NHS in diet related illness, but of course the food industry do not pay the true cost for this, this is disproportionately displaced onto the individual consumer via the taxes we pay to fund our health care system (Do not even get me started on corporate tax evasion).

All most of us want is honesty and transparency, and maybe even an ethical approach in the food industry,  where our health is put before profit, is that too much to ask?

It would seem it is.

‘Old age,more feared than death’…… have we ever cared about older people?

Has there ever been a ‘golden age’ where older people were consistently valued, respected and protected by family and the institutions that make up wider society?

The World Health Organisation suggests the abuse of older people occurs in many parts of the world with little recognition or response. This serious social problem is often downplayed or hidden from the public view, and considered mostly a private matter. Even today, the abuse of older people continues to be a taboo, mostly underestimated and ignored by societies across the world. However, evidence is accumulating to indicate that the abuse of older people in the UK is an important public health and societal problem.

The full extent of abuse is unknown, however, its social and moral significance is obvious. As such, it demands an active response, one which focuses on protecting the rights of older persons, and a change in our perspective on whom, and what, we value in society.

Although representations of old age and societal responses to older people have differed over time it could be argued old age has always been viewed as negative.

In ancient Greece old age was portrayed as sad, with the Greeks love of beauty marginalising the old. Although some commentators suggest the reality was more complex with the portrayal of older people in the classics as ‘both pejorative and complimentary’ (Thane, p.32). For Plato reverence toward old people was a guarantee of social and political stability, whereas Aristotle disagreed with such positive images. Cicero’s work De Senectute, written in 44 BC, points to the variety in individual experiences of ageing, acknowledging that for those who are poor and without mental capacity ageing is miserable, however, suggesting older people need to strive throughout their life to remain intellectually and physically able.

Arguably this belief still underpins social care legislation and policy today in respect of older people.

It has been suggested older people’s status in society is linked to their ability to participate in society from an economic perspective, especially in terms of activity in paid employment. Historically where older people have been unable to participate in paid employment, help and support has been provided through a mixture of family and state support, with an emphasis by government on the former rather than the latter. However, commentators suggest, post industrial revolution, another victim of change were older people. The old did not merely lose power, they also lost respect. The rise of the alms-houses, and institutionalised poor-relief, may indicate their children were increasingly shedding responsibility for their support and transferring it to the community.

Although Thane  argued, this may have been due to families own depths of poverty, rather than lack of care or a shedding of responsibility.

The abuse of older people was not something government identified as a problem throughout this period, although, self-neglect was identified as an issue which government sought to address in the 1948 National Assistance Act.

This is not to say it did not occur, for example, the 1942 Exceptional Needs Enquiry found most older people living with families were there under sufferance. They were often less well off than those who lived with strangers, and lacked essential items of clothing, bedding or household equipment as families used any provision, such as clothing coupons, for personal use. Whether this constituted abuse is not clear as many families who cared for older relatives were often living in poverty themselves and older people often willingly gave their families any support they could, even if this meant going without themselves. Of course, records do not exist to either confirm or deny whether such relationships were abusive or mutually supportive, however, it might suggest in terms of individual worth and personal identity, a cultural norm existed where the welfare of the younger generation was prioritised over that of the old by both young and old.

However, Peter Townsend’s landmark study  of long-stay institutional care for older people in 1950’s Britain, provides a little more insight into the experiences of older people receiving care. One of the interviews he recorded was with a matron of a small private residential home in Greater London, which Townsend suggested was by far the worst home he had visited, was clearly describing abuse, as defined in legislation today.

This suggests the abuse of older people has been going on for a long time. It is increasingly clear the abuse of older people exists, and as a society we cannot ignore it any longer.

CQC, older people & funding cuts:It’s not just about the money….

Di Galpin

As CQC yet again bring to government and wider societies attention the poor levels of care some older people experience, one wonders will we ever get to grips with this issue?

The latest report suggests cuts to social care,  mental health and public health mean “the NHS is being stretched to the limit,” said Stephen Dalton, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents hospitals. “Relying on political rhetoric that promises to protect the NHS but fails to acknowledge that a cut in social care results in a cost to the NHS, is an economic deception.”

Arguably, the discussion  needs to go beyond financial issues  to consider the greater deception of successive governments who have consistently ignored their failure to develop an ethically sustainable approach to the care and support of older people.

Let’s be honest, growing old in the UK is not for the faint hearted when we consider…

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CQC, older people & funding cuts:It’s not just about the money….

As CQC yet again bring to government and wider societies attention the poor levels of care some older people experience, one wonders will we ever get to grips with this issue?

The latest report suggests cuts to social care,  mental health and public health mean “the NHS is being stretched to the limit,” said Stephen Dalton, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents hospitals. “Relying on political rhetoric that promises to protect the NHS but fails to acknowledge that a cut in social care results in a cost to the NHS, is an economic deception.”

Arguably, the discussion  needs to go beyond financial issues  to consider the greater deception of successive governments who have consistently ignored their failure to develop an ethically sustainable approach to the care and support of older people.

Let’s be honest, growing old in the UK is not for the faint hearted when we consider research and inquiries over the last decade.

In 2007 The Joint Committee on Human Rights suggested older people in hospital and residential care routinely receive inhumane and degrading treatment, whilst an analysis of outcomes for patients commissioned by the Royal Medical Colleges in 2010 concluded inadequate hospital care for older people condemned many to death.  The Health Service Ombudsman review of complaints, in 2011, suggested the National Health Service (NHS) is inflicting pain and suffering on patients, citing examples of older patients leaving hospital with numerous physical injuries, mentally confused, soaked in urine wearing other people’s clothes held together with paper clips.  Sadly the report suggested the individuals discussed are ‘not exceptional or isolated cases’ and clearly indicates the attitude of staff was indifferent to those older people for whom they were supposed to care.    Then in 2012 the Royal College of Surgeons found older people were discriminated against when being assessed for surgical treatment, with decisions being based on chronological age rather than clinical need, whilst Bingham   suggested the treatment of older people in care was so bad that in many cases it met the legal definition of torture. The  scandalous mistreatment of older people in Mid Staffordshire was exposed in the Francis Report in 2013, whilst in 2015 CQC reported on the continuing poor care older people received in care homes …. and so it goes on.

When we move away from  hospital and residential settings things are often not much better with Action on Elder Abuse consistently highlighting the prevalence of abuse older people experience in the community,  leading in 2016 to the publishing of  a ‘dossier of shame’ which outlines how crimes against older people frequently go unpunished.

From a European perspective research findings suggest older people’s experience of ageing in the UK falls behind that of many of its European counterparts, with the UK performing most poorly on indicators such as income, poverty and age discrimination (WRVS,2012).  The report states “the UK faces multiple challenges in providing older people with a positive experience of ageing, scoring poorly (although not always the worst) across every theme of the matrix” (WRVS, 2012, p.8).

This all provides a troubling vision of older people’s experience of ageing in the UK.

Older people’s experience of ageing in the UK can be improved, and it is all of our responsibility to try and achieve this.  However, we first need a coherent strategy to bring about the change desired by many who work with older people.  Government in the UK tend to address issues associated with an ageing population in individual ‘silos’.  Research from Europe suggests those countries taking a joined up approach, where government consider how factors such as income, health, age discrimination and inclusion interact, the more successful policy approaches are likely to be to improve the experience of ageing.

However, any action needs first to take a long term approach and have a strong ethical, rather than financial, foundation founded on a clear understanding of, and agreement to, promote older peoples equality and human rights across the political divide.

‘Dual’ qualified social workers and integration in health and social care project ….. how to get involved!

The social work team at Plymouth University are undertaking a project to support the development of a unique group of workers in health and social care

The social work team, at Plymouth University, are currently being funded by Livewell Southwest, an independent social enterprise and community interest company (CIC) providing integrated health and social care services, to explore the experiences of dual qualified social workers in the work place. We believe the knowledge, skills and experiences of these workers is vital to understanding the support they need to contribute to delivering authentic integrated services.

The integration of health and social care has been a key objective for successive governments in the UK. Whilst some focus on the role of merging of budgets to promote closer integration between the professions, higher education institutions (HEIs) are increasingly turning their attention to the content of courses they provide to individuals who make up the workforce.

A number of HEIs have developed, and deliver, joint integrated degree programmes, which combine both nursing and social work education. These usually focus on learning disability or mental health nursing and social work. The extension of an integrated approach to learning is being developed by the HCPC, who are currently reviewing the standards of education and training (SETs) for health and social care professionals. One area of change being proposed relates to inter-professional education and the Introduction of a requirement in the standards for learners to have the opportunity to learn from, and with, learners and professionals in other relevant professions.

However, whilst new approaches to integrated learning in health and social care has the potential to be a positive step forward, is it really enough to achieve authentic integrated practice on the frontline?

There is some research on those who have undertaken a joint educational pathway, as mentioned above, however, limited research exists on the experiences of ‘dual qualified‘ social workers i.e. those who hold both a social work qualification and an allied professional qualification such as nursing, teaching or counselling for example. Little is known of their influence on promoting an integrated approach to service delivery, at a cultural and strategic level within organisational settings.

We want to hear from dual qualified social workers so that we can take an informed approach to developing an educational approach that both supports their professional development, post qualification, and which also informs employers on how best to maximise their potential to deliver genuine integration in service provision. If you hold both a social work qualification and an allied professional qualification, the team would like to hear from you. There is a short online questionnaire you can complete, which asks about the qualifications you hold, why you changed professions and your experience of being dual qualified in your current role, and what support might enhance your professional development.

If you would like to be involved you can contact Di Galpin and the project team at socialworkresearch@plymouth.ac.uk