Category Archives: society

What is the point of choice in care, if your choice is between an inadequate care provider or one requiring improvement?

As CQC finds 32% of facilities in England inadequate or in need of improvement and says social care in ‘precarious’ state one wonders will we ever get to grips with this issue?

This latest report suggests

social care is in a “precarious” state – and according to Age UK the results leave elderly people and their families “playing Russian roulette” when they choose a nursing home or other care service. Inspectors making unannounced visits to care homes found medicines being administered unsafely, alarm calls going unanswered and residents not getting help to eat or use the toilet. Some residents were found to have been woken up by night-shift care workers, washed and then put back to bed, apparently to make life easier for staff

This is not just poor care but adult abuse.

Governments response is to promise more money for social care, however, I feel we would be foolish to rely on the same old political rhetoric. This amounts to no more than economic deception as successive governments continue to adhere to the neoliberal principles of the quality and responsiveness of free market provision and consumer choice. The current approach is failing to deliver either of these fundamental neoliberal principles as the care ‘market’ flounders.  According to research, carried out for BBC Panorama by Opus Restructuring and Company Watch, the care ‘industry is in crisis with 69 home care companies having closed in the last six months and one in four of the UK’s 2,500 home care companies is at risk of insolvency.

Anyone reading this who has sought to purchase care for their relatives can attest to the lack of ‘choice’ the current system provides. Indeed most would forfeit ‘choice’  to just have one provider who we can trust to provide decent care for our loved one’s.

What is the point of choice if your choice is between an inadequate care provider or one requiring improvement?

The primary issue, for me, is that care should never be treated as an ‘industry’ because the conflation of care and profit should never ever have occurred because marker values have altered our understanding of the value of humanity in care. 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 those requiring care, especially 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. Action on Elder Abuse have consistently highlighted the prevalence of abuse older people experience in the community, leading in 2016 to the publishing of a ‘dosier of shame’ which outlined how the abuse of 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,210). 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.

Successive Governments in the UK tend to address issues associated with care and 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 develop more successful policy approaches, which improve our care provision and the experience of ageing.

However, any action needs first to move away from the dogma of neoliberalism and take a long term approach with a strong ethical, rather than financial, foundation.  This needs to be founded on a commitment to promoting care as a humane act rather than promoting the care of those most vulnerable as a  product to be bought, sold and profited from.

A Trade in People: the ‘free market’ is failing us all …..

Arguably, the ‘free market’ is anything but ‘free’ with  the cost to many in society excessive in terms of compassion and inequality.

A report published by Lancaster University  entitled ‘A Trade in People’ expresses the failure of the free market in providing services to those most vulnerable in society when it writes

‘it is clear to us that the way in which the healthcare economy has been encouraged to develop by recent governments turns people into commodities and liabilities. For local authorities and CCGs they are liabilities that they have often sought to export to other areas and for independent hospitals they are a commodity and source of millions of pounds of income and profit.’

Whilst an economic and political system premised on the commodification of people and neoliberal theory maybe a reliable form of wealth generation for some, it is also associated with little compassion for those who require support, as well structural inequality and poverty for many.

Nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz is clear, we are now engaged in a battle which is ideological, describing free market neo-liberalism as  a stifling economic ideology which has run it course.

Neoliberalism has an insidious presence in our lives, much like the air that we breathe, everywhere, yet unseen. George Monbiot  provides a compelling argument against this ideology, which values the free market as the place in which citizens can exercise their democratic choices through consumer choice and the private provision of goods and services.    Supporters of neoliberalism maintain  “the market” delivers benefits that could never be achieved by government, and that the more unregulated the market, the better the efficiency. Within this framework everything we do, and every person is a potential commodity that can bought, sold and traded for profit.

However, for me,  the free market  is associated with a loss of compassion, dignity and respect for one another as an inactive state projects structural failure onto the individual, along with an outdated mantra of ‘private sector good, public sector bad’.

One need not dig too deep to see the flaws within the current system. The research by Lancaster University adds to a plethora of  reports, all stating the same thing. This system is broken!

Just consider  housing and the care of older people to establish the limits of the free market.

Shelter’s report on the barriers low-income households face in private renting exposes the private housing  market’s limitations,  clearly arguing significant government intervention is needed if it is to play an expanded role in preventing homelessness and housing people on low incomes.

The same issues arises in the care of older people, where significant market failure is a continuing problem.

Over two years ago the King’s Fund  highlighted what many in the sector already know, the free market is failing stating

‘Social Care is now a complex and sprawling sector – more than 12,000 independent organisations, ranging from big corporate chains to small family-run businesses, charities and social enterprises, which makes the NHS provider landscape look like a sea of organisational tranquillity. Less than 10 per cent of social care is actually provided by councils or the NHS – their retreat from long term care provision is virtually complete. But unlike the NHS, when a social care provider hits the financial rocks, bankruptcy not bail-out is the more likely scenario.  But a deeper problem is the failure to think through the consequences of shifting the bulk of our care provision to a private business model’.

This is supported by  Andrew Dilnot , former drector of the Institute of Fiscal Studies, who suggests social care is is a classic example of a market failure where the private sector cannot do what’s needed.

However, the effect of the failure of the free market and neoliberal ideology extends beyond money,   the real effect of failing markets rests upon the poorest and most marginalised in society, like the  residents of Grenfell Tower and those with social care needs in private institutions, the frail and vulnerable who require support.

The problem in government today is that many of those who govern this country are woefully out of touch and too quick to blame individuals for their descent into a commodified system of care, rather than look at their own role in the rising tide of compassionless care which threatens us all.

Michael Sandel argues the free market is not just a mere mechanism designed to deliver goods, it also embodies certain values, and the problem is these values ‘crowd’ out non market values which are really worth caring about and preserving, such as compassion’.

Where values and ethics are weak in any system which seeks to support those in need, we need a strong and active state to intervene, where both are weak those most vulnerable in society will continue to be denigrated and exploited.

‘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….

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.

Social workers to learn how to earn ‘public trust’ from Politicians … Really!

Politicians to lead task force that will guide social workers in earning back public trust …… Really!

Forgive me, I almost choked on my coffee whilst reading a piece entitled ‘Social work needs to earn back public trust‘ on the Guardians Social Care Network.

The government has set up a task force to guide the social work profession on how to earn public trust. A stellar line up of politicians which include Michael Gove, Theresa May and Iain Duncan Smith, those well-known advocates of social work and those they work with. When did Politicians earn the right to pontificate on how a profession might earn public trust I wonder? I must have missed this whilst reading about the numerous promises this government has reneged on since the general election, and which clearly must have enhanced the publics trust in them …..

I am a tad perturbed the government seems to have ditched the comprehensive Munro Review, which provided a very balanced approach to reform that focused not just on social workers and their education but also the political and organisational contexts which also shape social work practice, and arguably go some way to explaining the current problems that bedevil the profession.

The piece suggests the new task force will focus on robust assessment of qualifying social workers involving employers, academics and those who use services …. ummm sorry to mention this, but I do not know of a qualifying social work programme that does not already do this. Social work programmes across the land expect students to pass a number of academic theory assignments and law based exams alongside practice based assessments which involve numerous observations of practice and a plethora of meetings and reports provided by employers, those who use services and academics commenting on the student’s performance and fitness for practice over a 2 or 3 year period.

The article goes onto suggest the social work profession needs to ask itself ‘why the college failed’ and ‘why the public mood’ supports changes in the law where social workers can be prosecuted for wilful neglect. In response to the first question, from my perspective, the reason I did not join the college is that I felt it represented the voice of the government not social workers. To the second comment I would hazard a guess that 30 years of inaccurate reporting in the media, oft-repeated by politicians, and flawed serious case reviews have played a part in the general publics perception of the profession.

Just read the book by Prof Ray Jones which looks at why politicians and the media were so keen to blame and vilify social workers and Sharon Shoesmith, Haringey’s then children’s services in the case of Baby P, to gain some insight into why the profession is held in such low esteem by the public, aided and abetted by the media and government I would suggest.

I was surprised the piece did not mention the problems with inadequate IT systems, how social work now operates in a call centre environment where workers hot desk and have limited contact with their peers, or how workers work in their cars, making phone calls in lay-bys on their mobiles because they cannot access secure office space. Nor does it mention the failing court system, or the outmoded model of fostering and adoption which is no longer fit for purpose and in many cases just adds to the trauma of already traumatised children’s lives, it fails to mention the knock on effect of welfare reform, the lack of affordable good quality housing or the deterioration in mental health support services to both adults and children, it does not dig deep into the effect on frontline service provision of high levels of stress related sickness and social work vacancies, or the impact of temporary agency workers in providing important continuity when working with children and families.

I have worked with hundreds of hard-working social work students, many of whom are accruing debts of up to £40,000 to become a social worker in children and family services. Despite public and government distrust, and potential imprisonment, they are committed to being the best social workers they can possibly be …. because of this I believe in social work. Time for another coffee I think …..

The ‘McDonaldlisation’ approach to reform in health and social care is as unhealthy as a triple whatever with cheese and fries….

A couple of years ago a social work student suggested government policy wanted to make us all ‘beige’. I know what she means.

Of course commentators might suggest we are seeing a radical shift in emphasis across health and social care under the coalition resulting in an ideologically driven reshaping in our understanding of legitimate nature, and limits, of the state in individuals lives. However, how radical is an agenda premised on ‘consumerism’ and ‘consumer choice’? Policy designed to create a society of depoliticised consumers is hardly going to address the very real issues around equality and social justice that exist in Britain today.

In ‘Cameron & Co dream world’ delegating care provision to corporate providers is really about delegating power to places where there is limited protection for consumers, ‘choice’ takes precedence over ‘voice’. The McDonaldlisation of care is really a watered down version of consumer choice, and some believe by engaging with it you are living the neoliberal dream.

I have nothing against beige, or McDonalds, really, but a bit of colour and a change of diet would not go amiss in the current debates around the future of health and social care, and social work is well placed to provide the colour needed to create greater vibrancy in how we meet future challenges.

As government concerns itself with winning the next election we need to keep the debate going, we need tasty morsels to stimulate a much better quality of debate and deeper thinking about how to address current, and future, issues.

‘Over 50’s more scared of dementia than cancer’: I’m more terrified of the ‘harrowing neglect’ in our care system ……

As The Telegraph report people over 50 are more scared of dementia than cancer, I have to say I am terrified of any condition which might mean I need to rely on our care system when I get older.

As someone over 50, and who is currently spending every weekend at the hospital bedside and my mother in law because I’m so scared that without family around she will be seen as nothing more than ‘care home fodder’, the thought of requiring care, either in hospital or outside of hospital, once you hit the post 80 mark is a terrifying prospect to me.

There has been too many high profile inquiries to suggest these are anomalies in the care system, for example, following the inquest into care at Orchard View the Serous Case Review into the deaths of 5 older people has been published. The coroner has heavily criticised the quality of care at the Southern Cross home, and expressed incredulity that many staff were still working in the care industry, stating that “there could be another Orchid View operating somewhere else”.

The Daily Mail reports

‘Britain’s worst care home’: Damning report into ‘harrowing neglect’ at £3,000-a-month home aims to stop ‘institutionalised abuse’ of the elderly: Serious Case Review has made 34 recommendations after examining failings at Orchid View care home in Copthorne, West SussexRead more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2652709/Orchid-View-care-home-receive-damning-report-published-today.html#ixzz34ELlbfW6
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I’m afraid the type of ‘care’ received by those at Orchard View is not confined to Orchard View.

In 2010 the Royal Medical Colleges concluded inadequate hospital care for older people condemned many to death. In 2011 The Health Service Ombudsman suggested the NHS was inflicting pain and suffering on older people, and was indifferent to older people. In 2012 Bingham suggested the treatment of older people in care is now so bad in many cases it meets the definition of ‘torture’.

Just for clarity Amnesty International has outlined the techniques used in ‘torture’, these include isolation, enforced trivial demands, degradation, threats, displays of power (i.e. controlling food and hydration, physical assault).

For some older people in care today, whether in the public or private sector, that is their care, torture.

No wonder from a European perspective research suggests older people’s experience of ageing in the UK falls behind that of many of it’s European counterparts (WRVS,2012).

Older people’s experience of ageing in the UK can be improved, and it is all of our responsibility to try to 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 policy needs first to have a strong ethical foundation founded on a clear understanding of, and agreement to, promoting older people’s equality and human rights.

There is clear evidence in the UK that poor levels of care, in both the private and public sector, is far to prevalent in our care system. Whilst the focus currently is on the leaders and professionals charged with developing and delivering care, wider society too has a role in ensuring compassion in care is the ‘norm’ and not the exception, as The Independent suggests

‘For a while we may pause to express outrage. But we then move on to the urgent business of our daily lives. Spot checks and hit squads may arrest the worst practice…but they will not do much about a society that has hardened its heart against the elderly’

Whilst many older people receive good quality care, the majority provided by friends and family, far too big a proportion of those requiring higher levels of care are failed by care providers in our system. It is not good enough to keep using the same old rhetoric, better training (what type and where from?), minimum standards (we have these), ‘big society’ need to take more responsibility. We have heard all of this before, and still the abuse continues.

Both my mother (82yrs) and mother-in-law (86yrs) have made clear to me this weekend they do not want to end up in residential care, the very thought fills them with horror. They remind me of the older people I worked with two decades ago who used to equate a stay in hospital with the workhouse and its associated horrors.

It struck me, it must feel terrifying being an older person requiring care today.