When Home is Horrible
I was met with a the shameful and terrifying news this morning that we in the UK not only lock up 10 year old children in detention centres (posh phrase for a prison – I should know I ran one of them), we are also Sectioning children (holding people in a mental health institution and treating them chemically against their wishes) as young as 12 years of age and putting them on adult mental health wards. Again I have worked on adult units as a Psychiatric nurse and they would be like a living hell to a child. But in real terms the number of beds available has been cut, as has at the same time cuts have dug deep into community services. It is always the case that speciality services, usually expensive and dealing with smaller numbers than the mainstream services, are the first to be cut especially in mental health provision. So now we have a situation where extremely vulnerable children are exposed to extreme adult behaviour and looked after by staff that are not trained to look after children as all their training is orientated towards the needs of adults. What’s worse is these are not isolated incidents; these wholly inappropriate admissions are happening more and more often. Would you want your child facing what must seem like a nightmare, surrounded by unstable people with a range of extreme conditions in their own right, Schizophrenia, Bipolar, Depression, Self-harm, etc?
If you wouldn’t want your child exposed to such unstable expressions of severe illnesses, why would we think this is acceptable for extremely ill kids? It’s just appalling and in many cases the child is completely isolated from love and affection as friends are not allowed on the units, as they are underage (ironic as that sounds) and sometimes the units are 100’s of miles away from everyone they know as available beds are in short supply. Of course none of this helps a child in extreme distress, none of it, which leads to an increase in self-harm and suicide attempts. But whatever you do don’t be fooled into thinking this is only the odd case, it really isn’t. There were over 350 cases of children being placed on adult mental health wards. Where they could get a child into to an adolescent unit, in one case it was 300 miles from where they lived, completely cut off from everything and everyone they know. Not exactly therapeutic!
The Coalition would have you believe everything is fine, everything is on the up, but mental health services, as with so many other services are beginning tos worse the above is not the only way children are suffering as a result of cuts. There are now more families in poverty than ever before, 900,000 people used food banks last year and that figure is predicted to nearly double this year. This week saw 27 Bishops and other religious leaders in the UK attack the Coalition for the growing level of poverty. And there is yet more ‘good’ news in this “recovery” the Coalition keep crowing about. For the first time ever more people were in work and claiming benefits than not in work and claiming benefits. 6.7 million People working and in need of benefits compared to 6.3 million. Even the statistics the Coalition release are extremely skewed to give the impression all is improving, such as there being nearly a million young people unemployed. But there is more to say about benefits; the Coalition and newspapers would let you think that everyone claiming is a ‘scrounger’ or exploiting the system and this isn’t the case at all. Out of the £166 billion spent on benefits 50% goes to pensions and of those claiming housing benefit the vast majority are in work.
However, even the total benefits bill is nothing compared to what was spent bailing out the banks, which totalled a mind boggling £1.1 trillion, that’s £1,100 million. The amount lost in tax avoidance is estimated at £44 billion and far more than is spent on people with disabilities, yet the number of tax avoidance cases has actually fallen since the Coalition took power. In contrast the number of people being refused benefit or having it stopped for one reason or another has gone up year on year to a staggering 600,000, but yet nearly 60% of the decisions are reversed on appeal. The Government would have you believe that there is enormous fraud in the system but in reality it is less than 0.25% and these figures are expected to be exaggerated. The ‘economic recovery’ isn’t reflective of the pure number of people being driven into poverty by the huge increase in minimum wage based employers, who are openly making money off people desperate to have any work at any price. But let’s switch tack a little bit and look at the Governments record on big industry, or as I like to call it the Tory Donor Club.
This Government has completely unleashed big corporate greed upon this ailing nation of ours, it stands by whilst the big six energy companies put their prices up by 9%. This was then blamed on the ‘Green-Levies’, so the Government removed them and in response some of the energy companies reduced their process by just 6%. And people still die in this country from cold related conditions, such as hypothermia. In one of the world’s richest countries profit is more important than lives. So as the profits of these companies are counted in the millions, at least the banks have learnt a lesson or two after the 2008 crash – sorry but no. Amongst others banks, Barclays profits were a mere £2 billion so they decide they have to slash 7,500 jobs, that’s on top of the 7,000 jobs that went last year. At least the ridiculous bonuses are now under control, actually no they’re not, Barclays will be spending £10’s of millions on bonuses as they lay people off on mass, and even our state rescued bank Lloyds and TSB are paying over £385 million in bonuses, as is RBS.
The contrast is mind blowing, as the richest get ever richer under this Coalition, while a vast chasm of poverty the width and depth of the Grand Canyon has opened up. The cuts are adding more and more layers of inequality and misery for the very people politicians are supposed to protect, and this is sharply felt on the frontline where services are commissioned. Most councils openly admit that due to the budget cuts the Coalition have overseen they are unable to provide even safe levels of care, this being reflected in what they are commissioning. For example, most councils are commissioning care services at about £12 per hour and 4 were reported to CQC for only giving providers £10 an hour. This reduces the quality of care people get, leads to a transient workforce that are poorly paid, poorly trained and don’t have robust enough systems in place, such as safeguarding, supervision, etc. I know of care providers that have 70% staff turnover and whose induction programme is based on a set of DVD’s they bought which new staff watch for three days and are then put on the job. Training records are falsified, as are supervision and even checks such as references. But it all stems down to the amount providers are paid by councils, which is in direct response to the amount Central Government gives them. I ran domiciliary services for a number of years, I never paid minimum wage, I never took on council contracts for less than £15 per hour, as this rate allowed me to invest in my staff and in the support services for staff and clients alike. More complex cases meant staff needed more training and support which in turn meant a higher hourly rate was needed. My analogy is that we wouldn’t accept poorly trained and underpaid doctors to operate on us without the requisite investment in them and their skills, but its ok for poor care standards for our society’s most vulnerable. In 8 years I never had a case of abuse or neglect levelled at the company and only ever had one formal complaint about a member of staff being consistently late, who I then fired.
I ran one of the few ‘care’ companies that had service users and relatives represented on the board and refused to let the company go down the route of 15 minute calls (this is the term for the length of time a member of staff is allowed to spend with a service user), as my staff needed to spend time that was needed, so that the service user felt supported and properly cared for. I only had Zero hours contracts if the staff were either University Students (as this was what suited their needs) or requested this type of no obligation contract. But now in care services Zero Hours contracts and minimum wage is the norm and this is allowed to be perpetuated by the Coalition. If the Government wanted to they could:
- Stop the abuse of Bonuses that clearly is still going on
- Prevent organisations that are posting billions of profit sacking 14,500 people in 12 months to increase their profits further
- Up the minimum wage in the ‘care’ sector to at least £7.50 per hour
- Not allow organisations to have more than 10% of the workforce on minimum wage and zero hours contracts
- Ring fence money councils spend on care in the community and invest more money rather than cut, cut, cut
- Make childcare free up to the age of 5
- Nationalise the energy companies and stop our vulnerable dying by the thousands each year due to fuel poverty
I don’t believe in universal benefits, if you are wealthy you should not receive state pension, it’s just completely wrong as we hear about pensioners starving and in fuel poverty. Paying people a decent wage will lift them from poverty, supported by childcare and cheaper energy bills, but this is not going to happen as they would upset their Tory donors, the corporate fat-cats. This is the era of corporate greed supported by Coalition cowards and the price to be paid is the welfare of the most vulnerable. For that reason I believe this has become a horrible land to live in for millions of people, no longer a supportive home, no longer a compassionate and caring home, unless you have a few millions of course.
Yours most sincerely
Smiling Cat Ventures (www.smilingcatventures.org)
Innovative Minds @ Work (www.innovativemindsatwork.org)
Mind the Step (improving accessibility)
Able Politics (increasing disabled peoples engagement in politics)
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