Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Another care agency bites the dust

My local rag reported this week that a care provider went out of business leaving clients in the lurch. Admittedly it was a small one with only about 20 clients in my area who were the story indicated fairly easily accomodated by one of the big providers (though no doubt a few people made a lot of phone calls, sent a lot of faxes and stayed in the office very late) so no real crisis, but could it be a canary? I'm not on the inside anymore, but I can take a guess that the trend of squeezing providers is still going on - probably even more so. Due to the strategy of our commissioning team the money we were paying for care fell about £5 an hour from £15 to around £10 in my time which was 2004-2009, but how sustainable is this system and who is paying the price? Being a labour intensive inustry the bulk of the £5 an hour will probably be wages so where does this leave care staff and what effect does it have on recruitment and retention?

Thursday, 18 August 2011

The London Riots

I was glued to the coverage in the way I used to be only on election nights, following the Guardian’s Live blog, flipping over to the BBC, waiting on every new development. The next day I was equally transfixed by the aftermath, the politicians posturing and discourses emerging; on the right it was about parenting, fecklessness and ‘criminality pure and simple’ and on the left it was about the cuts and alienated youth.

Facebook was also aglow with debate raging through the night and into the next morning. One ex-coursemate from my Sociology degree years posted a theory that the panoptican effect of CCTV has been shown for the sham it is. I personally weighed in with the view that it was all connected to Saskia Sassen’s global cities theory which states that key global cities have been shaped by global capital flows and money markets into highly unequal and polarised places. I reasoned that this created underlying tensions which have possibly been exasperated by the financial crisis. The question I pondered was; is it a coincidence that as the money markets meltdown, so a key point in the global financial system burns?

One thing which struck me especially as a particularly opportunistic bit of behaviour (not unlike that shown by many of the looters I must add) was the attempts by some associated with the police to take back what they see as lost ground with some talking heads complaining about how the ‘force’ is now regarded as being hamstrung by human rights considerations and is now more a ‘service’ now neutered and ineffective. What was needed they insinuated was a force unafraid to get out there and crack some skulls as this extract from the August 11th edition of the New York Times shows:

A former senior riot police officer with knowledge of current operations, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that the most recent riots were allowed to rage, in part, because police officers felt constrained. They operated, the former officer said, in the shadow of the case of a newspaper vendor, Ian Tomlinson, who died after being shoved by a riot officer guarding against protesters at a Group of 20 economic conference in 2009. The police officer, Simon Harwood, will go on trial for manslaughter in October.

I find this whole argument particularly difficult to swallow for a number of reasons. Chiefly the whole notion that police officers cannot tell the difference between reasonable force and what constitutes an illegal action is laughable. If they cannot tell the difference then what hope is there for the rest of us?

More specifically with regard to the Tomlinson case. My reading of the case was that the Officer PC Simon Harwood who was assigned to be in effect ‘in the rear with the gear’ by his own admission became 'bored' and then went walkabout with disastorous effect. This was not disciplined policing and in fact questions had been raised about Harwood's 'aggressive behaviour' long before the G20 protests.

The police are not the only ones using the smoke of the riots as cover for a political agenda as Cameron's attempts at turning the welfare state into a more punative part of the criminal justice system testfies, but the arguement that cases like the Tomlinson case have stopped them doing their job does the police a disservice. I hope that PC Harwood is not representative of the majority of officers who can tell the difference between doing their job and breaking the law.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Losing touch

It's surprising how quickly we can lose touch with things. It's coming up for two years since I left social services to enable me to study for a masters in social policy and whilst for the first year I kept in touch with the department and the wider world of social care this year has been different. I've lost touch with all but one former colleague and also feel out of touch with developments in the field as I no longer have a view from the ground. Incidentally I'm sure this is also something which is experienced by many senior managers.

So amongst all this it was nice to catch-up with an old colleague last week. They themselves left last year to pursue a social work degree after a number of years as an unqualified care-manager. I was curious about what they made of their experiences so far as in the past I've questioned just how well a social work degree prepares someone for what is a hugely demanding and complex role.

Their view was suitably mixed. They felt that there was indeed a gap between the ideal of the theory they were taught in the classroom and what actually happened in practice, but they also felt that what they had learnt had been valuble in enabling them to improve upon their practice.

Overall this left me feeling much better about the relavance of the social work degree, but it does illustrate what a strange area social care is more than any other as it is caught between idealism and pragmitism. As a worker the course of action which you feel best meets the text-book ideal must always be balanced against the limitations imposed by the availability of funds, the amount of time available to work on any one case, or the state of the local care market.

I was surprised to hear though that many newly qualified social workers have found it difficult to secure a job. Being out of touch I just don't know how the cuts are affecting my old department, but always thought that we had been running with unfilled vacancies for so long that it wouldn't be possible to cut anymore. As I said to my old colleague, as we well knew from experience, the job doesn't go away no matter how few people there are to deal with it the work never ever dries up. It's not as if it is a factory which can just slow-down it's production line. Just how are people coping I thought, is staying behind until 10pm becoming more routine than extraordinary I asked? I just can't imagine how it would work with less people.

My friend was also unsure, but one thing they did know was that the uncertain job market meant that the competition for the best placements was intensifying. They told me that you really need a placement with a local authority unless you want an uphill struggle to find work once you qualify.