Category Archives: Uncategorized

Are families really too selfish to care for their elderly parents?

Government minster, Phillip Lee, suggests families in Britain  are too selfish to care for their elderly relatives.

Whilst there are ‘selfish’ people in society from my experience of coming into contact with primarily women trying to care for elderly relatives, successive governments policies and economic strategies has done little to support them in this task.

The Carers Trust provides some insight into the demographics of care in the UK. Their figures suggest

  • 58% of women are carers
  • 1 in 5 people aged 50-64 yrs of age is a carer in the UK
  • 60% of carers have used all their saving to cover the cost of care
  • 61% of carers have to borrow money to make ends meet

From my professional, and personal experience, I have found caring for elderly parents tends to fall upon women between the ages of 55 and 65 years of age. These women are also carers of their grandchildren, because their children cannot afford the high cost of childcare and/or afford to pay high rents due to unaffordable housing, or to afford a large mortgage due to inflated housing costs linked to government policies.  Reports suggest many families would have to give up work if grandparents did not help out with childcare. Also we need to keep in mind many of these woman are also trying to support themselves, because they now have to continue to work until they are 67 yrs of age until they can get a pension.

So we have many  women in the UK today who still work to support themselves, they support their children, their grandchildren and their elderly parents. They are not rich women, they often work in low paid jobs, physical jobs, with no professional pension to fall back on.

Indeed in my view these women are heroes, and on top of that they contribute to the estimated £132 billion unpaid carers save the tax payer every year.

So I think it would be nice if these heroic women were recognised and thanked by the Minister.

 

 

 

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To deliver good, safe, sustainable care, leaders need to think beyond traditional boundaries ……

Our care system is at breaking point. People are struggling to find a good care home when they desperately need it. With demand for beds set to rise, the time for action is now. Help us convince the regulator to confront the care crisis before it’s too late.’ (Which?)

CQC have confirmed in their State of Social Care report the problems many requiring social care already know, the system needs reform.

As Which?  and CQC yet again bring to government and wider societies attention to the problems and poor levels of care some older people experience, one wonders will we ever get to grips with this issue? The transformation of ‘care’ into a commodity that can be bought by families and those who use services, like any other product, dominates current health and social care reform, however, discussion on what ethical principles underpin the delivery of such care has not emerged. This raises the question for me, is it wise to continue to build a system of care provision with no clear ethical foundation outside of that of the free market? Arguably, we need greater ambition in developing great care for older people and a more strategic approach to make real improvements. But how?

Developing ethically sustainable care for older people

Drawing on the ecology movement sustainable development is defined as “development that meets the needs of current generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs”. This captures two relevant issues; the need to support those older people currently requiring care, without compromising the future of the care system.

Need, capabilities and the ‘good life’

A first step in developing ethically sustainable care involves reframing our understanding of ‘need’. Need in a health and social care context is often used to refer to a function to be fulfilled, i.e. nutrition, physical care. Such needs are viewed as a necessary condition for survival. However, we should also view older peoples’ needs in terms of security, respect, love and justice.

The failure to distinguish between different types of need has led to limiting our understanding of how to care for older people, and has subsequently influenced how service provision has developed. Amartya Sens’ concept of ‘capabilities’ provides an alternative approach Sen is concerned in this model with identifying what individuals require to flourish and live a ‘good life’. In this model it is recognised older people require different capabilities to flourish, depending on their personal circumstances and the community they live in, whether that community is within an in-patient/residential setting or in the wider community. Successive governments’ appear to believe an expansion in a consumer culture within health and social care provision is the only route to a ‘good life’ for older people, as it enables individuals to increase choice and control by becoming consumers of care, rather than receivers of care.

Yet many older people are clearly not flourishing in a culture that defines the good life in terms of their ability to engage as a ‘customer of care’. A more useful way of thinking about this, from an ethical perspective, links Sen’s idea of capabilities and Aristotle’s vision of the ‘good life’. From this perspective achieving quality of life is central, rather than just meeting physical needs. In other words it is not just about achieving an ‘average’ notion of well-being but about the opportunities available to the individual which will enable them to develop their full potential, whatever that might mean for that individual.

This approach moves beyond ensuring older people have the ability to flourish to consider whether they are actually flourishing. Commentators suggest there are five areas in which older people need to flourish to live a good life, regardless of where they live. These are: belonging to a family; belonging to a community; having access to material goods for sustenance, adornment and play; living in a healthy environment; and having a spiritual dimension to life. Arguably the commissioning and delivery of service provision based on achieving these five areas might enable older people to receive care that is both compassionate and dignified.

The way forward

Conceptions of what constitutes a good life are varied, however, within health and social care provision it is prudent to assume a good life involves at a minimum care provision that is not abusive to older people.

Within the public sector the organisation and delivery of care is structured to focus on the meeting of targets rather than enabling an individual to flourish. The health and social care sector is arguably over managed and under led. In the private sector it could be argued a free market economy contains structural incentives for business to pursue a notion of the good life that supports the sale of a narrow range of care ‘products’, whilst there are not mechanisms in place to ensure the market operates within a clear ethical framework outside of the profit ethos.

By not actively endorsing care provision from an ethical stand point the government and regulatory bodies may actually be unwittingly aiding the abuse of the most vulnerable within the care system. A shift in focus from human need to human flourishing has already begun with the development of the personalisation agenda and emphasis on voice, choice and control however, this agenda has been overshadowed by a managerial approach to consumerism and consumption in a low paid, low status care system and this is undermining the ability of the care system to develop ethically.

Markets versus Values

Michael Sandel argues markets are not a mere mechanism designed to deliver goods, they also embody certain values, and the problem is these values ‘crowd’ out non market values like compassion and dignified care. Where values and ethics are weak we need a strong and active state to intervene, where both are weak those most vulnerable in society will continue to be exploited and abused. This begs the question can we afford not to have an ethical care system?

 

Social Work education; is there a future under neoliberalism?

As an ideology, neoliberalism perpetuates the belief that the market cannot only solve all problems but also serves as a model for structuring all social relations. It is steeped in the language of self-help, choice and individual responsibility,   purposely ignoring the effects of  inequalities in power, wealth and income and how these shape individuals and families lives. As such, it supports a society which cruelly others those who require support, and is scornful of a critical and politicised social work profession founded on compassion and notions of social justice, equality and respect.

Back in 2013 Michael Gove, then education secretary, claimed too many social workers had been filled with idealistic dogma and theories of society that viewed people as victims of social injustice. Gove vowed to “strip this sort of thinking out of the profession”.

More recently Ray Jones argues politicians are stealthily trying to take control of social work, possibly because social workers expose the failings of their ideologically driven policies?

Maybe this is why Government would like to diminish the role of Universities in social work education, to depoliticise the profession and create a beige curriculum.  A painting by numbers programme of training, rather than a vibrant colourful education that prepares social workers to support, and challenge those in power. The extension of neoliberal ideology and discourse into higher education already provides a framework to socialise academia into working in a manner akin to managerialism i.e targets/NSS, where knowledge is viewed as a commodity for customers (students) to purchase and consume.  Packaged as one dimensional capabilities rather than multifaceted knowledge and skills .

(see Grant and Radcliffe, 2015, whose paper on higher education in mental health nursing has many synergies with social work).

Arguably an effective social work profession is a political profession as well, able to critique and analyse, to challenge, rather than accept the status quo.  As Henry Giroux eloquently states

“At a time of increased repression, it is all the more crucial for educators to reject the notion that public and higher education are simply sites for training students for the workforce, and that the culture of education is synonymous with the culture of business. At issue here is the need for educators to recognize the power of education in creating the formative cultures necessary to challenge the various threats being mobilized against the ideas of justice and democracy, while also fighting for those public spheres, ideals, values, and policies that offer alternative modes of identity, thinking, social relations, and politics.

Pedagogy is always about power, because it cannot be separated from how subjectivities are formed or desires mobilized, how some experiences are legitimated and others are not, or how some knowledge is considered acceptable while other forms are excluded from the curriculum.”

Whilst we have a plethora of educational routes into social work, Frontline;Think Ahead;Step-up;Apprencticeships and HEI’s no one appears to be asking any political leader of any persuasion one very important question as far as I can see.

Given our politicians feel their governments policies and leadership over the last 3 decades has led to continuous improvements, why is society in such need for ever increasing numbers of social workers?

If we can move beyond the divisive  narratives of  ‘broken families’, ‘recruitment and retention’, ‘the demographic time bomb’, ‘austerity’ and ‘we can’t afford X’,  and consider addressing the structural issues that impact on individuals lives, such as housing, benefit reforms, energy prices, the environment, job insecurity, food insecurity, low wages, affordable higher education etc, we might then be able to formulate a different ideology, a different discourse, one that unites us for the good of all.

 

Neoliberalism is an ideology of fear and insecurity that enslaves us all ……. we need bravery and imagination to challenge the status quo …..

The exercise of imagination is dangerous to those who profit from the way things are because it has the power to show that the way things are is not permanent, not universal, not necessary. (Le Guin, The Wave in the Mind)

For those of us who have seen lives and cities decimated by the ideological mantra of neoliberalism  –  ‘free markets’ and ‘privatization’ good/ public sector bad – the reality of this ideological stance is personal.

As a society we have under estimated the power of this ideology. Yet it has under pinned successive governments’ since Margaret Thatcher with a blueprint of how society should be structured and has determined what, and whom, counts in society, differentiating between the deserving and underserving. This ideology has provided governments with a framework to structure the role the state, the free markets, families and individuals in meeting need in society. It still is driving government policy and tells society who will receive what, how much it will cost, who will pay for it and  how it will be provided. A particularly disturbing aspect of the current ideological crisis is the displacement of responsibility for ‘austerity’ and a failing public sector onto seemingly everyone, except those who have created it;  uncaring leaders, an under regulated financial sector and sheer corporate greed.

However, the exercise of neoliberal ideology is not just about political power and the domination and oppression of those most marginalized in society. It also requires the consent and compliance of wider society to operate without challenge.

For real change to occur society needs to withdraw its consent and compliance if we want to see a shift away from the current approach.

At last we are hearing an alternative discourse. Many will decry Corbyns’ vision, but it is for us, the people who will elect the next government to be brave, to open our hearts and minds to imagine a world not driven by neo-liberalism, free markets and the profit motive.

Arguably our biggest problem has been the lack of vision our politicians seem to have had over the last 40 years. Regardless of political persuasion, few have been able to conceive of a world not centred around neo-liberalism and a free market, and those who have, have been pilloried in our increasingly biased media machine.

Now we have an opportunity to forge a future based  on compassion not consumerism, valuing people not things and respect for ourselves, each other and our environment.

Rejecting neoliberalism  at the ballot box will do more long term good than sticking with the status quo. Neoliberalism is an ideology of fear and insecurity that enslaves us all. Maybe the time is coming for us, the people,  to be brave and imaginative and believe the unimaginable is possible for all our futures  ……

 

Neoliberalism is an ideology of fear and insecurity that enslaves us all ……. we need bravery and imagination to challenge the status quo …..

The exercise of imagination is dangerous to those who profit from the way things are because it has the power to show that the way things are is not permanent, not universal, not necessary. (Le Guin, The Wave in the Mind)

For those of us who have seen lives and cities decimated by the ideological mantra of neoliberalism  –  ‘free markets’ and ‘privatization’ good/ public sector bad – the reality of this ideological stance is personal.

As a society we have under estimated the power of this ideology. Yet it has under pinned successive governments’ since Margaret Thatcher with a blueprint of how society should be structured and has determined what, and whom, counts in society, differentiating between the deserving and underserving. This ideology has provided governments with a framework to structure the role the state, the free markets, families and individuals in meeting need in society. It still is driving government policy and tells society who will receive what, how much it will cost, who will pay for it and  how it will be provided. A particularly disturbing aspect of the current ideological crisis is the displacement of responsibility for ‘austerity’ and a failing public sector onto seemingly everyone, except those who have created it;  uncaring leaders, an under regulated financial sector and sheer corporate greed.

However, the exercise of neoliberal ideology is not just about political power and the domination and oppression of those most marginalized in society. It also requires the consent and compliance of wider society to operate without challenge.

For real change to occur society needs to withdraw its consent and compliance if we want to see a shift away from the current approach.

At last we are hearing an alternative discourse. Many will decry Corbyns’ vision, but it is for us, the people who will elect the next government to be brave, to open our hearts and minds to imagine a world not driven by neo-liberalism, free markets and the profit motive.

Arguably our biggest problem has been the lack of vision our politicians seem to have had over the last 40 years. Regardless of political persuasion, few have been able to conceive of a world not centred around neo-liberalism and a free market, and those who have, have been pilloried in our increasingly biased media machine.

Now we have an opportunity to forge a future based  on compassion not consumerism, valuing people not things and respect for ourselves, each other and our environment.

Rejecting neoliberalism  at the ballot box will do more long term good than sticking with the status quo. Neoliberalism is an ideology of fear and insecurity that enslaves us all. Maybe the time is coming for us, the people,  to be brave and imaginative and believe the unimaginable is possible for all our futures  ……

 

Corbyn and May enter into battle over the pros and cons of ‘neo-liberalism’… at last!

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’.

At last ‘neo-liberalism’ is up for debate! Whilst well known to economists, politicians, Guardian readers and academics (like me!) it is rarely thought about in wider society. Yet its impact on our society over the last 40 years is immense.

But, I am sure many people are asking what it is and why is it so important we debate the effect it is having on our lives.

I think it is important to be aware of the influence of neoliberalism in shaping our daily lives, why?  Because it has provided successive governments 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.

There are a number of strands to neoliberalism. In recent years, from a political perspective, successive  governments have used this ideology as a vehicle  firstly, to stigmatising those who require support and then disinvesting in the public services that provide their support, and 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 when there is a failure in the system, i.e. Grenfell Tower; Winterbourne View; Mid-Staffs, 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 iPhones’ and cancer care. The free market is highly valued in neoliberal ideology because it is viewed as a more efficient system in providing goods and services, and promotes individual liberty by empowering society through consumer choice.

Whilst neoliberal ideology has indeed empowered us to upgrade our iPhone at will and purchase cheap clothing and chemically enhanced food, what has this meant for those most vulnerable in society who might require quality  care rather than consumerism?

A report published by Lancaster University  entitled ‘A Trade in People’ expresses the failure of  a neoliberal care system. The report states

‘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.

Jeremy Corbyn closed his parties conference with a precis of the woes of neoliberalism. Next time it will be Theresa Mays’ turn. Regardless of our political perspective we all need to listen to both, and engage in this debate, because when we vote in the next general election neoliberal ideology will be at the forefront of the political agenda ….

What is the point of a neoliberal system of care if your choice is between poor or inadequate care?

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.

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 swingeing 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.