Power, Reward and Responsibility

Another chapter in the aftermath of the desperately sad case of Baby P was concluded today when the High Court in London found that Haringey Council was within its rights to dismiss Sharon Shoesmith from her post as the head of children’s services, in consequence.

Shadowy figure
An example from our new illustrations category addressing difficult subjects
I’m not going to debate the rights and wrongs of the case here, that’s what the courts are for. I am however going to note that this was a woman who was paid around £130,000 a year to do her job. An oft-used explanation for such extravagant salaries in public service is that these levels are needed to attract the quality of staff necessary to fill the posts. But that is, and always has been, a load of rubbish. High salaries are paid to people in senior positions by other people in senior positions to justify their own inflated self-worth and quite simply because they have the power to do so.

Now, depending on your point of view, your aspirations, and possibly your level in the pecking order, you might say there is nothing wrong with that, it’s merely the capitalist system at work, fuelled by human greed. But then something like the Baby P incident happens which shines a light on the ‘quality of staff’ aspect. There is a perception that the higher the salary, the higher the responsibility. In practical terms this perception is often misplaced, since the heavy burden of day-to-day responsibility more usually falls of the shoulders of the poorly paid at the bottom of the pile; the people with commitment and desire to do their best, but not enough hours in the day to tackle everything and starved of proper funding. However when the case is serious enough, as it was here, then the power brokers need to lose one of their own, if only to protect the rest of their positions.

So, to return to the beginning, I don’t have an opinion on whether Haringey Council was within its rights to dismiss Sharon Shoesmith. But I do believe that there is a whole tier of ‘public servants’ in this country above a certain salary level that should do the decent thing* and resign today, before the next inevitable tragedy.

*a fanciful concept which may only exist in the movies.

Frankie Boyle – mock the weak

There is plenty right with cutting edge comedy that makes us look at how our world spins lies, distortion and half truths. Scottish comedian Frankie Boyle has made a huge success of poking fun of everything and everyone – nothing is off limits, Madeleine McCann and 9/11 are just two of many subjects covered in routines.

James, one of our Down's Syndrome models, pictured at work

But maybe this time, the comedian has crossed the border without a visa. In the last gig of a recent tour the ubiquitous panelist of the BBC hit comedy show Mock the Week poked a very sharp finger into the chest of Down’s Syndrome and the content of the routine has caused offence to a member of the audience who happens to have a young daughter with the condition. Sharon Smith wrote about the incident on her blog.

I don’t have a problem with Boyle’s right to say what he wants on stage but there is an issue of him making money out of routines where vulnerable people do not have the intellectual rigour to fight back. In the gig that Sharon saw, Boyle parodied the so-called ‘accent’ of a person with Down’s Syndrome saying: ‘I’m looking forward to my birthday present this year, a pair of flared trousers.’ It is indeed funny that a person can fuel a lifestyle from such drivel.

But it works both ways, so on the basis that Careimages is all about accentuating the abilities of people with Down’s Syndrome and other groups marginalised first by society and further by Boyle cowering behind the ticket booth of free speech, here is a little joke:

Frankie Boyle was being led to the gallows by a fella with Down’s Syndrome and it was pouring down. ‘Not a very nice day for it.’ says Frankie. ‘It’s all right for you’, says the hangman, ‘I’ve got to walk back in this.’