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.
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.
Today, Christmas day, in China, there was a ‘legal’ verdict which was an affront to all democracies in the world. Liu Xiaobo was imprisoned for eleven years for the ‘crime’ of promoting human rights in the country of his birth. Liu is the founder of the Charter 08 campaign for constitutional reform. Although he had previously been held for a year without trial, the offical Chinese news agency, Xinhua, released a statement that said that the court had “strictly followed the legal procedures” and “fully protected Liu’s litigation rights”.
According to The Guardian’s report the case has raised fears that other drafters of Charter 08 could also face retribution from the authorities.
We sometimes moan about legal punishments in the UK, for instance when a rapist gets two years but a fraudster five. However we are not imprisoned in this country for ‘thought crimes’, at least, not yet.
The economic climate may well be making a lot of people suffer but its effect may be far-reaching in terms of how care is structured and administered over the next few years.
Would anyone involved in social care – service user or practitioner – trust the Conservatives? David Cameron was getting all sentimental last week in using a very non-Tory approach to issues like poverty and education. Ahead in the polls, Cameron was making sure wavering voters would not get the wrong idea about the Tories; that they really will make sure those who need help will get it. The speech even had the Guardian stating that traditional left-leaning voters may have been nodding in agreement in parts.
For me, the issue is not a philosophical one; after all, who would ever have believed that a Labour government could allow the gap between rich and poor to be so marked? Or that witless bankers (no, that’s not a spoonerism) would be ‘excused’ for their ineptitude?
And herein lies the problem; it’s not about a difference in philosophy between Labour and the Tories, rather a difference in ability to effectively manage complex government. And here both the main parties are not exactly blessed with talent in the crucial area of social care. Both parties know they cannot alienate voters in key marginals and have to make the right noises about care. And in the current economic climate that means more effective management within tighter budgets.
So for starters, might it not be an idea for local authorities to be looking at whether they are really getting value for money in the following areas before the new administration (of whatever colour) does it for them:
Out-of-borough adult residential placements
Block contracts with Community Care suppliers
Advertising and marketing of services and jobs.
If I was a betting man, I think we could find considerable savings in these areas alone.
The lowlight of a tumultuous week for democracy in the UK was watching Hazel Blears on TV firstly saying she had been acting within the rules and then later proudly waving a cheque a la Neville Chamberlain returning from his meeting with herr Hitler. It could of course have been any one of many MPs named and shamed by what has become an excellent scoop for the Telegraph.
What these grubby little apparatchiks in the commons fail to understand is that you don’t have to break the rules to be doing something wrong. And this comes into focus by living and using public transport in one of the poorest areas of the UK, Hackney. While some rich and supposedly socialist MP was allegedly spending £18,000 on bookshelves (yes, bookshelves) before his retirement and not seeing anything wrong with it, all I see is people struggling to get prams on overcrowded buses, people who abuse alcohol asking for money and groups of people looking for bargains in supermarkets as they struggle to fill their baskets (note, not even trolleys).
And yet, if any one of these people dares to try and scrounge a few more pounds from the government in the form of benefits, the judicial system shows no mercy. What kind of society have we become where £18,000 on bookshelves is seen as something that is acceptable (by the person who put a claim in for them)? Do we really live in a country where people in power literally do not know the difference between right and wrong? What hope is there for future generations to care about the less advantaged in our society when they see their MPs on a gravy train out of control and with no brakes?
I’m starting with a quote from Mahatma Gandhi which sums up my feelings: “We cannot leave it to our leaders. We must also act together to build a just world.”
With this historic quote by the godfather of ‘direct action’, blogger Rajiv Joshi started his contribution for G20Voice, an alternative community made up of 50 of the world’s most interesting bloggers who set up network at the G20 Summit at the Excel Centre.They come from 22 different countries, and between them represent a golbal audience of over 14 million readers and online participants. They were joined by representatives of all the major British NGOs.
Here is the view from John Hilary, the director of War on Want: “World leaders have responded by trying to preserve the system that is responsible for the crisis. Governments have been happy to bail out the bankers with hundreds of billions in public money, yet the poorest have received no help in their struggle to make ends meet. Worse still, with its refusal to accept anything but ‘light touch’ regulation of financial capital, the UK government has become the biggest obstacle to progress.
“Gordon Brown and other G20 leaders are throwing money at the global economic crisis rather than addressing its root causes. The London summit has been used to resurrect the failed policies and institutions of the free market era, in a deal which prioritises short-term action at the expense of fundamental reform.
“War on Want believes a stimulus package for the developing world is desperately needed. But the G20 decision to treble money available to the International Monetary Fund will resurrect an institution which lacks legitimacy.”
Barack Obama was adamant that the summit has tackled the main ussues that needed redressing, namely, accountability of the world banking system and trade imbalance. By agreeing on an economic stimulus package, he hoped that the recession will ‘bottom-up’ and come to an end in the next few months. That remains to be seen.
and we’re not talking babysitting in the short or mid-term. We’re talking caring for the grandchildren on a long-term basis. Having been involved with the Grandparents’ Association for a number of years I can show you evidence of hundreds of real-life stories of couples in their 50s, 60s and 70s who, for a range of reasons, are thrust into a second spell of parenting without guaranteed financial or emotional support.
Care is not a sexy vote-winner, particularly when the care is being carried out by people who may not be physically or emotionally in tune with modern youth culture. The government is happy to lean on grandparents – indeed there is almost an expectation that if an extended family is available, then they have a duty to undertake the care of grandchildren if the alternative option is for the child/ren to be taken into the care of the local authority. You never hear a word of complaint from the grandparents involved but Ashley hits the point home with this observation: “A parent, a foster parent, or someone looking after a disabled adult for 20 hours or more a week gets National Insurance credits. A grandparent doesn’t. This seems unfair, and mildly barmy. Grandparents get no flexible working help, or special leave. Parents can’t claim childcare tax credits for care by grandparents. Nine out of 10 grandparents do all the caring for free.”
Is this the kind of image of care the government really wants?
I’ve written before on the Care Images blog about Baby P and I think this Guardian piece by Andy Sawford is a tad ‘stating the obvious’, as in:
"At the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU) we believe the key is to speed up the integration of children’s services so that children don’t fall through the cracks in the system. We must stop playing pass the parcel between agencies and instead make sure there is shared responsibility and clear decision-making, so that urgent interventions are made”.
All well and good, but people who abuse children are very savvy in getting round ‘shared responsibility’ and intercepting the parcels. Good practice in social work goes unreported and you can be sure that many thousands of children who would have suffered the same fate as Baby P are alive and well because of the skills and expertise of social workers. But in this kind of case, collective bad practice led to tragedy and the press lynch mob.
I’m getting tired of the platitudes and buzzwords spouted from ministers and public body representatives. They are mere puppets under the controls of media-training companies hired by local authorities and government agencies who need to quickly react to a crisis.
Mr Sawford believes the government have in some ways failed the social work profession. But nowhere in his piece does he explain how the profession let down Baby P. Maybe Mr Sawford needs to get better information from his interestingly named Local Government Information Unit.