Monthly Archives: December 2014

Food poverty is the price we pay to maintain inequality ………..

“Food poverty, indeed all poverty, is the price some pay to maintain an economic approach that widens the divide between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ in society”.

As Justin Welby expresses his shock at food poverty in the UK, ministers seek to shift the focus away from government failure.

Many of those who govern this country are woefully out of touch and too quick to blame individuals for their descent into impoverishment, rather than look at their own role in the rising tide of inequality which threatens us all.

It is easy for ministers to imply the growth in food bank usage is due to individual moral defect even when their own research, conducted by DEFRA, suggests turning to a food bank is the strategy of last resort once all other possible strategies have been exhausted by those unable to feed their families.

The response from some in government is not new. We have had Ian Duncan Smith’s tall tale of ‘feckless layabouts’,  characterture villains of the ‘B’ movie variety designed to simplify issues which require significant structural change in approach to education, housing, employment, income and taxation.

Then there are Mr Cameron’s ‘troubled families’. Another stereotype beloved of successive governments to blame the woes of their world upon. Sadly, for government, locating problems with individuals is a doomed simplistic approach, as the trouble families programme is discovering. Troubled families are actually people whose lives are out of control due to multiple inter-related problems none of us could cope with easily i.e. poor mental and physical health, poor education, low incomes, rent arrears and poor housing. However, if we look beyond the labels of troubled families and feckless layabouts research suggests many others in society today are also struggling to attain a basic level of control over their lives. Concerns over how to feed the family and heat the home this winter will be the focus of many parents’ efforts. Add to this that many of those homes are damp and in poor condition with families experiencing increased financial insecurity, related to zero hours contracts, and it is apparent that our elected political elite are failing us as a nation when they resort to simplistically blaming individuals.

Food poverty, indeed all poverty, is the price some pay to maintain an economic approach that widens the divide between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ in society.

That inequality thrives within a free market economic system is not really debatable if we accept Thomas Piketty’s analysis in ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’. However, whether inequality matters is debatable, and this is a debate we are yet to have openly in this country.

Economist Friedrich Hayek (beloved of Mrs Thatcher) compared the free market to a game in which there is no point in calling an outcome just or unjust. In this context the Food Bank co-exists on the high street with the designer shop without shame. The problem is whether we play the game or not, it is being played with us. Whatever we do or abstain from doing, our withdrawal will change nothing. In essences many in society today are engaged in a game made up of make believe free players where the appearance of freedom masks the dynamic and unpredictable process by which sudden economic change, and ultimately disadvantage, may visit upon a citizen at anytime.

With a general election looming it is time to raise the level of debate and decide are we happy to live in an unequal society and are we happy to continue to blame individuals for their own misfortune? If we are happy with ‘B’ movie villains and solutions we had better hope no such misfortune ever befalls us, lest we become those characterture villains so beloved of tabloid headlines and government ministers.

Profiting from care is the real crisis in the care industry..…..

The BBC reported today on a ‘crisis in home care‘ suggesting the care industry is constrained by budgetary issues. All very interesting but probably not telling many who use health and social care services anything new. Arguably, a central problem in todays care sector is that it is now perceived by government as a product to bought and sold, and more importantly profited from much like baked beans and ipads, only less regulated!

There is no one answer to this issue but a series that could make a positive difference if taken together.

Firstly a change of discourse on care. Could it be possible the promotion of care as a ‘product’ is part of the reason we keep going around in circles on this issue? The commodification of care emerged under Margaret Thatcher out of the community care reforms of the 1980’s and 1990’s. Such an approach is now so firmly embedded within the health and social care sector it is difficult for anyone to conceptualize care as anything other than a product where “value” is equated to cost rather than any sense of ethical practice or notions of compassion for one another.

Secondly, we also have to ask are we recruiting the right people into the care sector, whether as carers, leaders or managers? Clearly there are many good carers/leaders/managers out there, but we need a lot more, however, this has to be based on suitability not availability. On the ‘frontline’ care providers, whether public or private, have had real difficulty in attracting people into the workforce. This is not surprising when you consider how government and wider society undervalue such work. Caring for people is a demanding, and rewarding job, but, carries little status and is seen as something ‘anyone’ can do.

Believe me it is not. From my professional experience I’d say the best front line carers are those who have a deeply ingrained respect for others, and who genuinely like people. This is not something that can be taught, but they are the characteristics that provide the foundation to developing a professional, and caring, workforce.

Recruitment of the right people will only occur however, if we address a third issue, the provision of high quality support and training for carers combined with decent pay and working conditions. These are central to turning the system around.

However, already I hear the cry ‘we can’t afford to’. Arguably, we cannot afford not to if we really want change.

Where our vision of care does not extend beyond a discourse of free markets and cost, a strong philosophical, moral, and ethical framework will be required to guide the provision of care. For care to become more than a commodity reform is required at a structural and individual level, founded on a new discourse that emphasises dignity over price, compassion over cost. We are at a moment in history where society is questioning our whole economic system. Whilst it has brought much in terms of material resources for some, the cost at a moral, ethical and philosophical level in the “care industry” leaves a lot to be desired, maybe it is time to say care is too valuable to be classed as a commodity to be profited from.