The perils of privatising social care

This is a story in the Guardian about how children in care are treated as commodities in a market-system of placement.

The Guardian often does these kinds of stories quite well. However; they never draw the obvious conclusion. The system is not ever going to be fixed by a worried / outraged article in the press and some more regulation / money.

The problems described in this article are the inevitable result of bringing the profit system into the field of social care for looked after young people. Of course if you do this calculations are going to be made on the basis of profiteering and of course this will not result in the “best care” for young people.

There may be some fields where the profit-motive can produce results which socialised production cannot. An obvious example is the case of any field in which technological innovation can be stimulated by profit and competition. It is hard not to accept, for example, that the competition between Nikon and Canon – both chasing profits – has not been the driver for the exceptional technical developments in digital cameras in the last few years.

But some fields do not require innovation. Social care is one such field. Care is care and the basics of what is needed does not change or develop over time. What is needed is not technical innovation but long-term planning and the stability that comes from this. There is no need to make profits to invest in R&D. Private companies operating in these fields are simply creaming off the profits. If the service was delivered on a socialised basis any surplus could be re-invested.

These services have been privatised so that greedy business people (in many cases US investment capital) can make lots of profits and accumulate even more capital into private hands.

The system of social care for young people taken into care in this country is frightening. If the public knew what was going on there would be widespread horror. Since the ideology of privatisation of local authority services has taken over there has been a surge in small private providers running a small number of care homes – with just a few beds per home. In some cases (probably many – I don’t have figures) these private companies are run by people who used to work in social services departments. They use their contacts and training and domain knowledge (all provided for them by the public purse) to develop their profitable private businesses. Local authorities pay whatever they are asked. There are multiple reasons for this lack of cost-control which it is beyond the scope of this article to discuss. But we can note that local authorities operate in a risk-averse environment – penalties accrue for allowing a scandal to occur but there are no rewards for taking a small risk and saving some money.

The Guardian article gives some mouthwatering ideas about costs of placing a young person in a private care home.

The author of this site worked for one shift in one of these homes. A young boy aged 12 had just arrived – he had just been taken into care and the home had just accepted his (no doubt lucrative) placement. It emerged that one of the older youths had on his file the remark that due to his sexual behaviour no younger people should be placed in the same home as him. Fortunately, one of the staff remarked, this was just a comment and not a legal ruling so the home was able to ignore it when taking the placement of the younger boy. This is precisely the kind of decision making based on financial motives which occurs when you have a privatised market. And it is harmful to young people. In this case definitely so; during the night – I heard a scream from the bedrooms – I am 100% sure this was the 17 year old pedophile introducing himself into the bed of the new arrival (the 12 year old).

The arguments about ‘efficiency’ with which the public were sold large-scale privatisation in the 80s are massively overstated. The costs, especially in sectors, which should be embodying social values, were never considered.

There are similar problems in the system of local authority funded care for the elderly. As private care homes go bust their elderly victims are turfed out and dumped in hospital wards.

Money won the argument. Care lost. Articles like the one linked to above in the Guardian can highlight the problems – but it will take more than a little bit of regulation to fix. Some “services” can only be properly provided on a socialised basis. The left – what remains of it – should at least focus on bringing social care, prisons, probation and education back into the state sector.

Advertisements

Housing in the UK

The Guardian has been running a series of exposes this week about poor conditions in the private rented sector; stories include tales of neglect by landlords who live abroad, and landlords who have been prosecuted able to continue letting.

Up to a point, good journalism.

But – the call is for more regulation, and this isn’t going to get us anywhere. The landlords, their allies in parliament, the resistance of the bureaucracy to do anything which transfers power to the powerless will always make sure that any regulation is tokenistic only. For example; the government has announced that tenants will be able to access a database of ‘rogue landlords’ run by local authorities. But, in reality, how many desperate people – those in the market for a slum property run by a slum landlord – will be in a position to check this database? In reality, people who are desperate enough to be considering a slum property don’t have the luxury of selecting their landlord – on any criteria.

In general all attempts to regulate private greed and exploitation of the powerless start from the premise of legitimising greed and exploitation. It is not permitted to do anything to call into question the founding principles of capitalism – and so the regulation is necessarily toothless. At best regulation is designed to hide some of the very worst excesses which bring the system as a whole into disrepute.

A few personal experiences by the author of this site. At one point he rented a small flat in Oxford from a private landlord. They seemed quite friendly. I paid the deposit and moved in. After a few months some problems developed with a boiler. It had become furred up and started making a terrible racket at night – causing me sleepless nights. I tried to contact the landlords. When I’d met them they had appeared to live just round the corner so I didn’t think this would be a problem. However – after multiple attempts to contact them it seemed that this was not the case. In the end I discovered that they were living in the Caribbean – presumably on the rent I was paying them. After 3 sleepless months they finally managed to send someone round to fix the boiler..

On another occasion I rented from a private “buy-to-let” landlord in a small town in Oxfordshire. He had to be pressed to take away the rubbish left by the last tennant and he eventually did so, albeit making a fuss about it. Once he’d done that I moved in. As he handed over the keys he said, “these modern houses run themselves”. I.e. don’t call us if it needs any repairs.

Both these people (who were a long way from the kind of slum landlords exposed by the Guardian) were lazy and keen to make money out of someone else’s need. Neither had much  sense of social solidarity. They are quite happy to see other people, not as brothers, but as objects to be exploited to make themselves rich. Such thinking and behaviour is of course not simply normalised in capitalism; it is an expression of capitalism’s founding principles. At its basis is an indifference to others; a willingness to exploit them and not care what that does to them. In the Soviet Union such behaviour was illegal; a crime.

The Guardian’s call for more regulation will change nothing. If we want the problems exposed by the Guardian to end the only way to do this is to outlaw private renting altogether and for the state to take responsibility for providing social housing. Private greed is private greed – it never has a pretty face – and making it jump through a few tokenistic regulatory hoops is no more than applying a dab of powder to it. It is fundamentally ugly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The intolerance of the new ‘progressives’

This article by Guardian columnist Owen Jones is a statement of the new credo.

Owen is up in arms because Sky News has interviewed Tommy Robinson (founder of the English Defence League). Owen says that “The far right is not a legitimate political perspective”. Its spokespeople should not be heard. Giving them a “platform” i.e. interviewing them,  legitimises their bigotry and hatred. Owen argues that if we allow the principle that people with irrational beliefs and “any old idea” can legitimately be interviewed by the media then “why aren’t we holding prime-time debates about how the earth is flat”? It appears that Owen Jones would also like to ban interviews about whether the earth is flat.

The problem with this is simple and obvious. Who decides what is “irrational” and “any old idea”? The whole idea of a rational democracy is that the people, who are assumed to be capable of making their own rational assessments, make these decisions. And they can only make these decisions if they can hear the views. Despite his (strategic and transparent) attempts to distance himself from the ‘liberal media’ Owen Jones is simply re-iterating one of its core beliefs; a self-appointed elite should decide what goes and what does not go in terms of what is considered acceptable debate. By defining what can and cannot be debated they hope to short-circuit debate and simply force their views through. (Another example of this was how in the run-up to a parliamentary vote on gay marriage the then Equalities Minister announced that there would be a period of public debate and then, a few days later, said that anyone who disagreed with the proposal was a bigot and their views could not even be countenanced).

The only solid argument that Owen Jones offers to support his banning call is that the Finsbury Park mosque bomber had seen online videos by Tommy Robinson.  However; the problem with this argument is that publishing material which incites racial or religious-based hatred are already arrestable offences in the UK. If the Finsbury Park bomber really was ‘radicalised’ by Tommy Robinson’s videos (as Jones quotes a senior police officer as saying) then the question is – why had the police not arrested Robinson (and required ISPs to remove the videos?). The law already provides precisely the protection which Owen is now seeking to obtain through a banning of media interviews. Not only does it provide this protection but – just because it is the law – and not the arbitrary legislation of self-appointed guardians of the airwaves – it provides a rational mechanism for determining what is hate-speech and what is legitimate debate. There may well be a serious set of questions to ask concerning why the police had not arrested Robinson for publishing material “stirring-up” hatred of religious groups (if that is what he is doing) – but the call for a media ban is something else. A media ban is a blanket ban on a person or organisation – once enforced the banned people cannot say anything at all. It is characteristic of the new progressives (or modern liberals – despite Jones’s attempt to distance himself from the tag ‘liberal’ he is indeed a representative of modern liberalism) that they like, where possible, to bypass the due process and considered judgements of the courts in favour of blanket bans which they control. While no doubt Jone’s cause is in many ways a worthwhile one (tolerance is a better value than intolerance) he is closer to Nazi book-burnings than he might think.

The other problem with the idea of a media ban is that it will probably not, as Jones appears to believe, somehow make intolerance and racism go away. The bigotry which Jones is concerned about is rooted in the real experience of hundreds of thousands of people, maybe millions, in the UK. Guardian journalists probably do not feel the heat of economic competition from immigrants. But many do. Owen Jones himself might not mind his children being forced to eat cruelly slaughtered halal meat at school because the local authority has a policy that all meat is halal – but does this mean that those who object are bigots? The only valid crucible in which what is a reasonable (but different) point of view and what is simply a hate-crime can be tested is the crucible of public debate – and, when a conclusion is reached, though the process of legislation and judgement in a court.

Owen’s piece, linked to above, is a clear example of the credo of modern progressives (liberals) that seeks to bypass the ‘old’ approach of rational debate and legislation and replace it with a new approach where a very narrow metropolitan elite of political and media figures decide for everyone else what is right and wrong.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Barbaric use of isolation in schools

This Guardian article about the use of isolation in schools in the UK is a case study of docile bodies.

Notice the cynical hand-washing statement from the Department of Education. Notice too the connection with OFSTED. That is – the pressure to produce good OFSTED reports is part of the pressure which drives these kinds of excessive punishments.

Notice too the language in the statement from one of the School Trusts: the students will “self-correct”. They might as well be talking about a self-driving car. The distinction between a machine and a human being is lost. Young people are quite literally being treated and trained as efficient automatons. This is the “freedom” and “democracy” we wage wars all over the world to bring to people?

Obviously it is completely barbaric to do this to young people. Strange that in this world where at every breath the authorities claim to be concerned about the welfare of young people and “Safeguarding” this is passed through on the nod.

And finally, we can say as a matter of certainty that a few parents complaining and getting an article in the Guardian is not going to change anything. This is a vicious country and this is just part and parcel of that viciousness.

 

 

 

The Nazi bullet

I read somewhere, I don’t know if it’s true, that when the Nazis executed someone they sent their family a bill for the bullet.

In this country if you get a DBS check (an administrative procedure which allows employers in many sectors to bypass the terms of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act, and, in some cases, to also receive police intelligence outside of any judicial process) you are offered the option to put it (your ‘account’) on the update system. This means that future employers can reference information about you without you having to make a new application. The charge for this is currently £13.00 p.a and is paid by the applicant.

This means the applicant is required to pay the cost of the system which puts him under surveillance. He has to pay for his own surveillance! (The system is run by Capita on a government contract).

Worse. The DBS system is a formal disciplinary system (in Foucault’s sense). It is designed to manage and control the aberrant behaviour it targets. The system of surveillance denudes individuals and society of the moral compass which in the absence of the disciplinary system would control the aberrant behaviour in a healthy way. It pushes the idea that all beings are inherently criminals. It makes no distinction between the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’. Like any other disciplinary system the ‘child protection’ system actually fosters the behaviour it manages. That is; in plain English the DBS system promotes child sexual abuse. By forcing people who want to work with young people to pay the subscription fee for this system they are forcing people to be complicit in their system which legitimizes and normalises child sexual abuse.

 

 

 

 

US corporations, peadophilia and British values

If you go to Google Inc. images (a special page on the search engine) and type a word, let’s say “tulips” – then examine the page which is returned you will notice that the images are not being served from their location on the Internet. Rather; the search engine appears to serve the image using base64 data. For example an image src attribute might be:

data:image/jpeg;base64,/9j/4AAQSk….

This is a binary, (well, base 64 encoded), representation of the image. In order to do this Google must have read the image data from its source and then translated that into the base64 encoded data which it then serves. The data may or may not be stored for any length of time on Google server’s but it is certainly being served from their servers.

The same experiment can be repeated with other search terms. Given certain sets of search terms child abuse images may be returned. This writer has read one journalist commenting that this is some kind of way to view pornography or other illegal material without being traced. The idea is your IP will not be traced as having accessed the source web site for the image because it hasn’t. Google’s search function is in effect acting as an anonymising proxy. However, quite apart from the moral aspect this does not sound wise. There are myriad ways that the material viewed could be tracked and proven – involving Google sharing data with the authorities or otherwise (e.g. a simple grab of the Internet traffic to your IP). These ways just (it seems) would require authorisation from the Home Secretary. [1]

However; the question is – why is Google allowed to get away with this? There is not even some kind of ‘report image’ feature on the image search page.

The answer no doubt is because Google Inc. is a large US company. And the one golden rule for the British political ‘elite’ these days is obeisance to US financial power.

While on this subject – Amazon.com Inc sells DVDs which are clearly paedophile material. Try the DVD “look at me” which appears to be a collection of children in swimming pools. Or the film “The Genesis Children” which (based on its Wikipedia entry) is a film featuring a group of adolescent boys (from 12 upwards) running naked around a beach. They are, apparently. naked for much of the film, which has no plot. Or there is the touching story about how a 12 year old in the Philippines fell in love with a police officer. The Genesis Children, for example, has not been passed by the British Board of Film Censors. If you order it from Amazon you may be committing an offence as you are the importer. But – what is the likelihood of a prosecution which would involve Amazon?

This author has just done a (mickey mouse) online “Safeguarding Course”. One of the sections related to “British Values”. One must protect children by modelling “British Values” to them.

This is a case of hypocrisy. British values know well their limit when it comes to US corporations. The course should have said “Model to young people what British values used to be“. Of course – there has always been corruption – but at least at one point perhaps there were some kind of shared values in the UK which might have meant something at least as an ideal that people referenced (obviously different social classes would have had different values and/or a different take on the same values). Now it is just so much spin… The only real British value today is to bow down to American fiscal power, whatever it serves up.

Notes

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regulation_of_Investigatory_Powers_Act_2000

I don’t know if this is up to date and accurate. The legislation in this area has been re-written more than once. It may be a tribunal rather than the Home Secretary is required to authorise a police request to obtain the content of electronic data exchanges. Sorry. I don’t know.

 

Misery Marketing

As a keen observer of social trends the New Observer watches for developments in marketing techniques.

Because all these people (marketeers) are relentless copiers once a new technique emerges it soon becomes widespread.

‘Misery marketing’ is a new technique. This is quite a subtle one. It works with a little twist at the end. In keeping with the broader trend at the moment it focuses on emotional manipulation.

This technique works by making some kind of apparently disinterested and generous offer. You take note of this. You don’t guard against it because it genuinely seems like there is no catch. Indeed there is no catch – until you decide to leave the company (switch brand). At that point it kicks in. You will start to feel miserable. You feel miserable because previously you accepted a kind offer from this company – or in some other way associated your better self with them – and now you are leaving them. In fact you feel awful. The idea is not to encourage more purchases (the usual goal of marketing) but to prevent you leaving.

Two examples:

E-On

My electricity company recently sent me information about a price increase (which they amusingly described as “Your new price”). Printed in large letters on the letter – “Don’t forget you can switch providers at any time”. You read this and think – how honest of them, how decent; to remind me that I have the ‘right’ (ha ha) to ‘choose’. But – try leaving. Now you will feel miserable. After all, they were kind enough to tell you you had the choice. It looks like a disinterested act but it is emotional manipulation to make you feel bad if you try to leave.

Tesco

You get a little token to put into a box. You can ‘choose’ one of 3 charities. It all seems very disinterested. But try leaving Tesco. Now your favourite charity won’t get that little “extra help”. How mean of you. How can you leave? You will feel terrible. They have hooked up your good emotions to their cause in order to make you feel miserable if you think of leaving.

These are just two examples of this technique. The acute observer will find many more.

 

But – don’t forget, dear Reader, that it is all a con anyway. ‘Choice’ between brands is no choice at all. They are all owned by the same finance capital. The directors and shareholding companies move freely between them. The ‘choice’ in this kind of market is no choice at all.