Thursday, 26 November 2009

Language games

What is the correct term for a person who has involvement with the social care sector? In my experience there was in practice no real concrete guidance, individuals largely left to make their own decisions, though like a swarm of bees almost everyone settled on ‘client’, or ‘service user’. In the case of joint working teams the medical professionals stuck resolutely to their classic label of ‘patient’.

The lack of guidance is surprising as the terms we use to describe people are often highly loaded, crystallising the whole histories of professions and influencing the way practitioners relate to the people they work with. Patient, the dominant term in medicine, is regarded by suspicion by social care carrying as it does connotations of passivity in the face of the all conquering medical paradigm. I also find service user difficult as many people I came into contact with were not, or did not wish to be, in receipt of any services.

It is client however, which I have enormous difficulty with. On one hand it does distribute power more evenly between an individual and the organisation, but its origins are rooted in the consumerist conception of the welfare state which I regard with some suspicion. When we speak of clients we imagine somebody who is purchasing a service and entering into a contract. Fine. Perhaps. This view has delivered some improvements through increasing choice and accountability, but at the cost of increasing means-testing. ‘Clients’ increasingly do - literally purchase their care with the Local Authourity acting as broker. Services such as care are no longer a right more an option; if you wish to pay for it. It’s often struck me as an unfair that if you require medical treatment, the state will, quite rightly, cover the cost of this. However, if you happen to need a carer to enable you to go about your daily life, this can be at the cost of a large portion, or in other cases all, of your savings and income. The term client is less innocent than it appears, but is it possible to have a world without such labels?

Thursday, 12 November 2009

The downside to professionalisation

I've been in an essay mode recently, a condition a friend once referred to as 'nesting', I'm surrounded by paper; handwritten lecture notes, books, photocopied chapters, and memos scrawled in a desperate attempt to capture inspiration like a delicate butterfly in a net. I plan to enjoy a weekend of relaxation before clearing the floor ready for my next essay due in two weeks time. No doubt this scene is being replicated in rooms across the country. From Newcastle to Exeter invitations shunned, partners asked for understanding and sacrifices being made in the hope that a good grade means a better future.

From 2012 a three or four year university degree will be the only route of entry to the nursing profession. I have mixed feelings about this. I wrote an essay on the nursing profession as an undergraduate in the early noughties about the politics of the profession. It didn't get me a good grade, but it introduced me to the debate in nursing between on one hand the Florence Nightingale School of nursing which emphasised the pastoral, caring side of nursing and the Mrs Bedford Fenwick school which argued for minimum training standards, registration and increased professionalism. These polar positions have endured through the creation of a universal NHS and can be clearly seen the views put forward today by the RCN and the Patients Association.

For me I feel that both elements have a point. I recognise that the health service has moved on and requires increased specialist skills, but I cannot help agreeing with some of the views expressed on the BBC 6 o'clock news that a 3 or 4 year degree format may put many potentially good nurses off entering the profession. In many ways the story of Nursing and Social Work are similar, both can trace their early development to Victorian amateur pioneers, both have struggled with gender discourses and both have seen groups fighting for increased professional recognition.

One issue in social care has been the creation of a two-tier workforce with unqualified workers experiencing reduced status - as humorously documented in Clare in the Community (October 10th 2007) , fewer development opportunities, and career ceilings. All of which leads to workers with years of experience leaving the field rather than opting to take a three or four year degree. The importance of unqualified workers is often ignored, even in papers such as the Guardian; they rarely appear in accounts which talk of 'the profession'. I was shocked when I first walked into my office to discover that in a team of around 12 there were only two qualified Social Workers, one being the team manager, so in terms of front line workers there was only one qualified Social Worker. It is not my intention here to critique the Social Work degree. My point is that raising barriers to a profession can be problematic. I have had the pleasure of working with many dedicated and competent unqualified workers, who would be regarded as social workers in other parts of the world, many who could have so much more to offer.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

In the name of liberal democracy..

My feet have gone beyond aching, but finally after months of build-up, which has led to a few things this blog included being neglected, it's over. I'm promising myself never, never, never-ever again just like I did last year, but this time I mean it. I haven't run a marathon or gone for an agonisingly long hill-laden distance bike ride, no; I've just been collecting peoples names for the register of electors.

It all starts in August. A couple of pleasant sunny mornings spent posting letters containing the forms through peoples doors. Just as the leaves are turning yellow come the reminders in September. Then October; Stage 3 - the door knocking stage. Stage 3 involves knocking on the door of every non-responding address twice. The statutory time frame for this is the 9th - 26th October. The sociology graduate in me finds this stage interesting. The Chicago School of Urban Ecology Theorists after all felt in order to get under the skin of a city to really know how it works you need to wear out as much shoe leather as possible.

My area for the past two years is what the Chicago School Theorists would term the zone of transition; an area near the very centre of the city with a transient population which serves as an arrival point for recent migrants. This would of course be a gross over-simplification of the dynamic of the area, where individual streets change in character from top to bottom, but provides a broad-brush stroked overview.

Many of the buildings are Victorian, built in the late 1800s and have, ironically through neglect, retained many original features. Many of the mosaiced paths leading to the front doors remain intact. Whilst not quite in the same league as Fishbourne they nevertheless are elegant, attractive features that put any homes built in the last 100 years to shame. Stained glass designs rest above doorways and many porches are brightened by ceramic glazed tiles in a multitude or shapes, colours and designs. No doubt conscientious owner occupiers would have long ago ripped these out to be replaced with whatever was de-jour. Another irony is it is the grandest of these homes, the victorian palaces at the end of tree lined streets abutting the main throughfare, which my Grandmother recalled as the posh part of town, that are now home to the most transient populations; their cavernous shells sectioned into single room dwellings.

Regeneration since the mid 1990s has transformed the area; once known as the red-light district. Investement in health centres and community facilities have been combined with City Patrol vehicles surveying the streets with mounted cameras and community based policing methods to reduce minor anti-social behaviour such as on-street drinking and drunkeness which had provided the area with its former reputation.

In the course of knocking on peoples doors the overwhelmingly majority were friendly even if many chose not to register to vote. Now, here is the difficulty with stage 3. My area has a very low response rate to Stages 1 and 2, in fact this year a response was not received from 593 properties which means potentially knocking on doors 1186 times. This is not just an issue for my feet, but is a huge problem for democracy. Anecdotally the people most reluctant to register are the most margianalised. Hardly any of the residents in the large houses sectioned into bed-sits register and many new eastern-europeans are also highly unlikely to register.

Working in local government I know that politics does matter, political decisions do impact our daily lives, particularly the lives of the most vulnerable who are more likely to be in contact with Health, Social Care, Housing and other services. Marginal groups and new immigrants are also vulnerable to being used as scapegoats for social problems by politicians eager to squeeze votes out of those who do register, but without registering to vote what hope do the marginalised have of having a voice to answer back?

Monday, 5 October 2009

Inequality: The Elephant in the Room

After a few weeks behind my usual desk and a couple of hectic, lunchbreak free duty days the memory of the relaxed week I spent with the new team is heading on a one-way ticket to my subconscious. There is however, one aspect of the week which troubles me and has been the cause for some reflection.

In my second day on-loan to the newly formed, freshly relocated team I stepped out of the office to take a lunchtime meander. The office, a grim, dull building, is located on the West side of the City at the end of a long shopping street; the sort of street that is near to a town centre, but a world apart. 99p shops, Greggs the Bakers, an empty Woolies leaving a gap like a freshly pulled tooth, pawn brokers, cash converters, assorted charity shops, a KFC and a shop selling mobility scooters. What struck me most of all however, was how there seemed to be a far higher number of people who appeared to be in poor health with oxygen bottles, missing limbs and mobility scooters.

I was troubled as to whether this was the anecdotal observation of a Flaneur born of some kind of class-snobbery so last week, over another lunchbreak I went in search of hard data. A quick Google search instantly came up with what I was looking for. On an NHS site I found the following passage:

"Predictably, poorer health indicators are common in the most deprived wards and are a dominant feature of west ............ Compared to the rest of the City, people living in poorer areas have a 27% higher overall death rate and a 47% higher death rate for heart disease and stroke. Specific health problems include high teenage pregnancy rates, high accident rates and poor dental health in children."

Not coincidentally this side of town is home to the highest proportion of Social Care service users. Poverty and inequality have long been known to been implicated in conditions such as COPD, mental health issues, obesity and diabetes.

From an insiders view of service cutbacks, understaffing and a new charging policy which has sparked protests outside City Hall it is clear there is a funding crisis in the Social Care field. This is publicly acknowledged by the Government. The latest Government initiative 'The Big Care Debate' frames the issue in terms of the crisis being a by-product of us living longer. The elephant in the room however, seems to be the effect on health and the need for long-term services generated by poverty and inequality. The complex needs arising from and exasperated by poor housing, mental health issues, lack of resources and poor education. Inequalities many of which have grown unchecked for a generation and need to be tackled.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Follies and IT Problems

It’s been a tough week back in my usual team. I’ve just enjoyed a very relaxed week ‘on-loan’ to another team during their re-organisation and office move. This I was told as I reported for my first day involved holding the fort for them by acting as duty Care Manager for a week. Fortunately for me the fort saw less action than one of Palmerston’s follies.

I was struck by the difference in culture between my host team and my regular team. In my new team people made tea for eachother, it seems like a small detail but it’s one which is telling. I felt supported and immediately hit it off with all of the team over their regular Monday pub lunch. It started to feel a lot like the French philosophy of work rather than the Anglo-Saxon definition. I wondered with the changes, which will surely over time mean increased workloads, whether this cordiality would disappear. Was the pub lunch like France the day Sarkozy was elected; did change loom in the air?

I was confronted by bureaucracy on the second day the day of the actual move. On of the key elements of the structural change is the merger of NHS teams with Social Services Teams. Community Matrons, Physiotherapists, Care Managers, Rehab Assistants and Social Workers all working together. This presents an IT nightmare. The computers we were using were owned by the NHS Primary Care Trust (PCT). To access these you needed a PCT log-in. Once logged in a separate portal could be used to log-in to the Local Authorities system. In accordance with the Authority’s approach to forward planning nobody had seen fit to issue me with a PCT log in. I was given a number of PCT IT support. I called only to be told that I needed a form completed by a manager to get a log in…. fair enough…. How long does it take?.... “a week” was the curt reply. I ended up, with a managerial blind-eye being turned, using other peoples PCT log-in and then logging myself into the Authority’s system. Unfortunately a security feature means that when the computers switch to power save mode they automatically lock. Not good when the person who’s log on you have used is out of the office and not answering their mobile. My colleagues with PCT log-ins fared no better, some were left without desks, computers, access to printers and others were caught in the middle of a ping-pong match between the Authority’s IT services and the PCT IT services over who was responsible for supplying the fix for each particular IT problem.

Somehow we managed to keep the service together. In part due to the help of my usual team who always play the role of sweeper in the organisation, however, also because it has been decided that though ‘professionals’ (the definition of which is still under debate) can refer directly to the new teams they will not be told they have to until November. This buys the new teams some breathing space. As for November…..

Sunday, 13 September 2009

The Future

Sunday mornings; A stray thought of work appears in my head like a lone cloud in an otherwise clear sky signalling the end of that perfect sunny day. Sunday night; There is only brushing my teeth, 15-20 pages of reading my book (currently my escape fantasies are being sated by My 'Dam Life; Three Years in Holland by Sean Condon), and finally shutting my eyes, between me and a week of stress, boredom, and frustration which will make me either a.) want to or b.)actually bang my head on my desk.

The coming week, now approaching faster than Lewis Hamilton, is like a September morning; Difficult to read in it's ambiguity. The reason? The long planned structural changes will be going live. I will be with one of the new teams for the week. On one hand I'm excited. My current desk has over three years become over familiar like a cell is to a lifer who can picture every nuance of every brick with their eyes firmly shut. But there is the lone cloud. Will it pass by like a lone-wolf or is it an outrider, leading the snarling storm in it's wake?

Certainly the conversations I have had during the week lead me towards the latter hypothesis. Oh well; Time to brush my teeth.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Underpaid and undervalued.

I've just been reading an article published on the excellent Guardian Unlimited society section. Finally a Government Minister Andy Burnham, seems to be facing up to the reality that downward pressure on carers wages is undermining the quality of services.

I'm something of a prolific commenter on the society pages and posted my thoughts under the name enzee199:

When I first entered the field 5 years ago my Local Authourity was paying around of £15.00 per hour to block contract providers. Under the latest agreements rates are as low as £11 per hour. Add the affect of inflation and this is quite a decline.
Social Care is a labour intensive business so a significant chunk of the savings will undoubtably have come straight out of carers pay packets.
As well as this, at a time when 'local' service provision is being championed by policy guru's, declining rates favour large national providers who can gain economies of scale in the back-office functions like HR, legal, payroll, and training, edging out local or regional providers in the race to snap up LA contracts.
I don't see this situation improving, at least for the average less well-off service user, with developments like IB's. Unless a friend or family member is willing to help out for the amount a LA will pay then they will be forced to purchase care from a national provider or face paying a top-up mirroring the situation with residential care i.e the LA will pay for a bog-standard room in one of the less desierable homes unless you have a family member who wants to pay extra so you have more choice.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Change Part II - Plus-Ca-Change

Since the mid 90s I've had an allegiance for Brighton and Hove Albion FC. When I was 14 this involved getting my mum and step-dad to drive for several hours to the Goldstone ground so I could buy a signed football and a replica shirt (in the days before the internet purchases like this necessitated a big adventure) . It seems irrational. I've only ever to this day seen the first team play once and at the time had no real connections with the Brighton area. In any case the Brighton area of the mid-90s was certainly not the sanitised vision of fun, funky, Brighton-based web-designer, sushi, sexy, creativity it is today. It was still dragging itself out of a pretty painful 1980s which had earned it the nickname skidrow-on-sea. Gentrification had not yet arrived to turf the giro-playboys out of the neglected Georgian buildings turned into bedsits and the city had a nasty heroin habit.

I am however, a sucker for the underdog and that is exactly what Brighton were at that point in their history. The club were in serious financial trouble, way before it became fashionable for clubs to call in the receivers once in a while, and were about to lose the Goldstone Ground to ground-share with Gillingham in Kent giving fans a huge round trip for a 'home' game. The team unsurprisingly were getting stuffed on the pitch at one point almost dropping out of the league altogether.

During these days I have one abiding image, burned into consciousness. Watching Brighton getting thrashed on a videotaped episode of Endsleigh League Extra I remember one of the players, a defender, head hanging in helpless desperation as the opposing striker sprinted joyously, arms aloft, back to his team-mates after slotting home something like the fourth goal against them. The look was one of complete demoralization. His eyes betrayed that he had faced the horrible realisation that no matter how hard he sweated, battled and strained it would be in vain as he was just one part of a system, a system which was no longer working and could not be saved by any one of its constituent parts.

Working for a Social Services department I know how that player feels.

Only the other week my team were told of how the planned reorganisation, mentioned in my earlier post 'Change', would be affecting us; that is despite previous assurances to the contrary. We were then told many of us would need to spend a week at the other teams to help-out with the transition as the teams would take on responsibility for referrals made to Social Services by 'professionals.' The remainder of the team would stay behind and continue to deal with referrals made by the general public which equates to very roughly 50% of our current workload.

We have today been advised of a slight re-think to the plans (due to go ahead in two weeks). Whilst professionals have been told they will need to refer directly to the new teams when the switch-over takes place if they do happen to call the main switchboard (operated by Capita) instead the referral will then be dealt with by my team. If this alone doesn't have the potential for confusion there will also be the fact that on day one many of the teams will be moving to new offices, unpacking, arranging files, desks etc and some apparently plan to just put the answerphone on.

Three of us, including myself, will still be going to another team. There will be no briefing from management about what we are expected to do whilst with the teams. My own management have told me that we're not there to shift boxes and if this happens to come straight back.

I'm starting to feel like that defender again.

Friday, 28 August 2009

The Fear

Every so often, usually as a "friendly" Alsatian leaps towards your jugular, someone, the owner, will utter "don't be afraid they can smell fear." If dogs can really smell fear then a Social Services office will turn the most docile lapdog into a snarling frenzy, whizzing round in an incoherent blur like the Tasmanian Devil in a town centre after a night on the Stella.

Social Services offices operate on pure fear. Social Workers fear that they're one mistake, one bad call, one lapse of memory away from putting a client at risk. Unqualified staff are terrified of getting out of their depth and being swept away by swift currents of disciplinaries and HR procedures. Even admin staff carry the fear that their mistakes will result in them being told to clear their desks.

For anyone facing a disciplinary and losing your job is a terrifying prospect. For Social Workers removal of their registration means they are left to wander the barren wilderness outside the high walls of the profession they worked so hard to enter. A loss of livelihood at the very least. If your mistake has put someone at risk or worse your livelihood will be the least of your concerns. Most people in Social Services take things home with them; We reflect on where we went wrong, where we could have done more, where we failed and usually what we will do better next time. For the condemned, stripped of their previous honours, judged to have been found wanting in the course of their duties, there is no next time. Only regret.

It is of course essential that the professionals who we rely on are up to the job. It is right that those who are unsuitable, reckless, untrustworthy or negligent should be removed from their posts. The great problem however is that in a climate of underfunding it is difficult to see where blame should lie. Should the individual Tommy take the blame for failure to reach their muddy objective, was it their poor handling of their rifle which led to their comrades perishing, or was it the plan devised by the officers that was flawed, poor training, poor equipment or a combination of factors.

It is accepted wisdom that mistakes take place in environments where there is poor leadership, scarcity of resources and high caseloads. When an individual is under pressure they are more likely to make the mistake which costs them their job. Often managers are keen to delegate blame to individuals. To admit a system is at fault is to admit they are at least partly at fault.

In the meantime the fallen are shrouded in secrecy; not to be spoken of. The remaining staff are told not to contact their colleague during proceedings. When a final decision is taken they are told the individual is 'no longer with the authority.' They no longer exist.

Thursday, 20 August 2009


After being told for some time that the long planned changes to the structure of the service, merging 5 Rehab Teams and 5 Locality Teams into 3 'super teams' complete with Community Matrons, would not affect the team we have now been told that the future is more uncertain. In an emergency team meeting we were told we will no longer be dealing with referrals from professionals, these will be made direct to the super teams, leaving us to deal with referrals made by the general public. There has been much discussion in the team since the plans were first announced and it was generally agreed amongst us that, despite the assertions of senior management, like a small boat, we would be inevitably tossed about by the waves generated by the supertanker maneuvering around us.

The plans will be 'going live' in mid-september. Office moves have been scheduled to take place and as everyone settles into new routines of hot-desking and parking problems half of my team will be sent out to help the new teams with processing the new referrals now be dealing with. The future of my team will we are told depend on the statistics generated in this first week.

Throughout the meeting I had a smile on my face. I was recalling when I first started at Social Services. Someone had blu-tacked some cartoons to the office wall, one was the excellent Clare In the Community another had a manager standing in front of an organisational diagram. The diagram had been amended several times, boxes crossed out and new names of teams pencilled in, things like Children's Team 1 was crossed out and Area C written in it's place. The caption of the cartoon was "We've tried re-organising several times so we just thought we'd mess everything up and see what happens" I couldn't help but think of it.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Gender in Social Care

Jane is dropping dollops of mango chutney on the table after a few too many vodkas, Sheila’s grabbed a fake flower from a vase and is stuffing it down her top. Everyone is having a good laugh. Fairly typical scene of a girls night out. Except there’s one guy. Me. “You are the luckiest man in town” I’m later told by a waiter bringing over my vindaloo. It’s been less than a year since I walked through the door of a Social Services department. I’m at a colleagues leaving do. Conspicuously the only male of the group on the night; one of only two in the whole team in the day. Brought up by my mum, along with two sisters and having spent three years on a sociology degree meant I’m not unfamiliar with being the only male face. In fact I’m comfortable with it. After five years in a boys school in some ways it’s a relief.

A few years later I’m in a car with Steve a locum Occupational Therapist. I’m shadowing him on client visits as he’s waiting for his CRB to come through. This is stupid. He’s probably had several CRBs since my last one which was when I received a permanent contract in 2005, but as he hasn’t yet had one since taking up employment with this authourity he cannot do visits alone. Steve, an ex RAF dog handler, was a welcome sight. I’d just had a period of being the only male in the team. As we head to the visit we’re talking about my experiences as the odd one out. Steve observes that from his experience working in all female environments is “all bitchy” and all male environments are “all Sunday Sport.” While I don’t completely agree with his sentiments I did agree that working in an almost exclusively female environment is a negative thing. Where earlier I had felt comfortable I now felt bitter, alienated and discriminated against.

The Stephen Lawrence enquiry gave birth to the everyday use of the term institutional racism. When we talk about institutional discrimination we talk about discrimination which is hidden in structures, everyday practices and deep down in attitudes we may not be fully aware we have. Quite often when a high profile ‘race-row’ erupts in the media the alleged perpetrators first line of defence is ‘I’m not racist ask any of my friends’. This statement may often be completely true. The difficulty with tackling institutional discrimination like institutional racism is that a person or organisation doesn’t need to be racist to be racist. My experiences, though I hasten to add these are not on the level of some of the racism people have experienced, as the only male in a department has provided me with personal experience of how institutional discrimination exists, even within a Social Services department which prides itself on diversity, in an authority with an ‘equality framework’ backed up by numerous HR policies.

There is the everyday conversation in the office. The discussions about which men my colleagues liked the look of. This could sometimes be fairly innocent of ‘isn’t X or Y nice looking’ or at other times slightly more graphic. I have even had the occasional comment made directly to me. Then there are the conversations involving negative generalisations about men. The out of favour husbands, boyfriends and men-folk in general who were, well, just men after all. ‘No… not you’ would be hastily added if I happened to be nearby. I’ve even heard comments like “typical man” added to discussions in the office when there is a case involving domestic violence.

There is the impact I feel gender has had on my career. I have received feedback from interviews where I have been told while I have knowledge I am ‘too academic’, that I lack communication skills, and the experience of dealing with people. In other words whilst I possess qualities traditionally thought of as masculine I lack the feminine qualities demanded by the field. I would describe myself as academic but I have also spent several years in the field where I have demonstrated an ability to communicate effectively. This may of course just be a case of me reacting to not getting the job, but what makes me feel this is not necessarily the case is that several female colleagues have made the observation that my difficulty progressing in the organisation is ‘because you’re a bloke.’ It’s not however, just men that are on the receiving end of gender stereotypes in the organisation for an overwhelmingly female organisation a very high number of team managers appear to be male.

There is also what I find to be one of the hardest things being the only male in an environment of mainly middle-aged females. No one ever gets your pop-culture or film references.. yeah that’s just like that film.. have you seen you seem to be giving me a strange look. Better get back to typing out this assessment. This can make it hard to form friendships, build good working relationships with colleagues and has at times made me feel excluded and alienated from the team.

Some of these observations may appear trivial, even insignificant. You might feel that I’m ‘touchy’ or take offence too easily. Yet I have never made a complaint. Why? To do so would, I feel have no point. I don’t feel that any of the people I work with are sexist, or even doing anything particularly wrong. I believe however, that many of them operate using a deeply embedded set of assumptions about gender drawn from wider society. These individual assumptions, when joined together, creates an everyday corporate culture which is in opposition to the official projection of an organisation which values diversity. I do not complain about individual colleagues as their actions, in themselves are insignificant. Complaining however, would trigger the organisation into dealing with the issue as an individual one. It will point to its policies that ensure diversity and deflect the blame onto one individual. The complainant is then likely to face consequences such as being regarded with suspicion by colleagues.

This is I believe how discrimination of all kinds and at all levels persists. An organisation needs to be pro-active in placing the minutest of day-to-day practices under the microscope to find where these are infected by prejudice. The problem is that so many organisations are unwilling to do this unless they are faced by external pressure. Otherwise why would an organisation ask such tough questions, questions which may make both managers and the organisation as a whole look bad?

Thursday, 13 August 2009

A Turning Point

Two years ago I applied for an MSc in Social Policy. I deferred for a year as I chose to move into a new flat and did not have enough cash to pay the fees. Over the last year I have been oscillating between going to uni or giving up my place. Decision day would have been the end of August as I would need to give a months notice to be able to begin in October.

Today, after a particularly frustrating morning dealing with a request for an extra toilet in a house as someone might, just might, be using the other one. I suddenly felt trapped. I have sat at the same desk in the same room doing the same job for too many years. I had the urge just to walk out on the spot. Instead I channeled the desire into striking off a couple of things which had to be languishing on my to do list. First I contacted the Uni. Could I pay the fees by installments? Yes I can; Two. One payment in October another in January. Then I sent an email to my manager. As of October I would like to work part time Mon-Wed. I am currently awaiting a decision on this.

Financially it will be a stretch. I will be having a very, very frugal year but, seven years after graduating with a Sociology degree I'm only now within touching distance of 20k a year. Social Care is not a sector which will make you rich! With the interest on my initial student loan still not being covered I desperately need to get something which will propel my career forward. I think the MSc will be what I need.

I have spoken to a few fiends about this. Without a professional qualification it seems very hard to progress your career beyond a couple of rungs up the ladder. It is like trying to gain access to a City without using a main road. There are back roads into the city but you need to have good local knowledge or a guide to navigate them. You're also likely to become stuck in a traffic jam as
everyone without a qualification is seeking the same route. A professional qualification on the other hand allows you fast, direct access into the heart of the city.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Fair Pay?

In my mail today, along with a bank statement which was more gory than Quentin Tarantino's innermost thoughts, arrived a ballot paper from Unison. We in the public sector must decide whether to accept a pay offer of 1.25% for the lowest paid grades and 1.00% for all other grades.

Even with the latest CPI inflation at a low 1.8% this represents a pay cut for the whole public sector. If we reject the offer this may eventually result in strike action. I have been involved with strike action before and feel it has been unsuccessful. As soon as the news breaks that we are to strike the politicians aided by some sections of the media reach into the box marked 'lazy stereotypes' and pull forth a cardboard cut out of a fictionalised public sector employee. Favourites being the paper pushing beauracrat; only too happy to stand in the way of your planning application, council tax payment or request for residential care for your mother-in-law. This creature exists only in the public sector as it is a virus which cannot exist outside it's environment for long. Dying on exposure to the dog-eat-dog hard faced 'real world' occupied by the rest of society. The other perennial stereotype is the 'non-job'. Often associated with that other demon of the public sector political correcness or 'elf and safety'. Playground Supervisors, Cycling Officers et al all on 'taxpayer funded' saleries starting at £25k a year and all doing jobs which are totally pointless.

As a public sector employee I will say that there are some job roles which are overpaid (usually with coordinator in the title) whose purpose can be questionable. Where these exist they are in part down to the vagaries of the grading system. Job roles across an authourity are compared using a set of criteria and banded into grades. The criteria for a band will include things like whether there are visits to the public, supervision of other employees, etc. Taken across a whole authourity this can overvalue some jobs, but it can often undervalue others. For example a Childrens Social Worker has the same starting salary as an Adult Services Social Worker, yet one job is seen within the profession as much tougher than the other. Consequently Childrens Service departments often find themselves understaffed. This grading system means that unlike the private sector pay cannot be deemed simply by a market driven supply and demand value. If it were Childrens Social Workers would be one of the highest paid workers in the Authourity, rather than being equal to Adults Social Workers, Town Planners and, Painters and Decorators.

Not many people find great wealth serving in the public sector. This is not because, as many would have it, they would not cope in the 'real world', but because they beleive in what they do and are trying their best to make a difference. For all the talk of 'paper pushers' and 'non-jobs' the public sector is full of dedicated staff who are underpaid and often battling to do essential jobs to the best of their ability to a backdrop of declining resources. It is not uncommon to hear stories of staff routinely going without breaks and working 5 hours overtime in one day just to get the job done and putting up with spectacular amounts of abuse from joe public. Of course our detractors will say this is all comon to the private sector too, but no-one is accusing them of having a free ride. For all the dedication I see everyday I think my colleagues deserve more than 1%.

Welcome to Going Public.

Welcome to my Blog. When I was at university, in my room adorned with a Che Guevara poster, I dreamed of making a difference in the public sector. Not for me the huge profits of the fat cat private sector world. Why then, almost five years after I first timidly set foot in the council offices as an employee, am I so dissilusioned?

I've been inspired to start this blog by the other public employees who have written about their experiences. People like Nightjack. Maybe no one will read it but I hope, like all those years ago, that I can finally make a difference, if only to make people ask the questions which so badly need to be asked of the public sector today.

I work in an Adult Services department of a Local Authourity in England. In my five years, starting at the very bottom rung of the ladder, I have worked in three roles under two administrations and four different managers. I am currently working two roles, of which I will talk about more in future posts; Provided I last that long. I'm already thinking about my exit strategy but my colleagues have heard that many times before.

I will in these posts use alternative identities and will not name my employers. I will not publish any information which can lead to the identification of individuals. I will however, discuss the issues as I see them, the problems I encounter every day in my job and my views on the governments policy. I hope you enjoy reading them and please feel free to post any comments I am more than happy to correspond about the issues affecting the public sector.