Sunday, 8 November 2015

What Price Charity?

Last week, Worcester witnessed an increasingly rare spectacle: the public taking to the streets to highlight an issue of great concern. Nearly 200 of us took part in the StandUp4Care rally ( With the county council’s budget cut by over £50m in the last two years, social care has been hit hard. Cuts to the public health budget announced recently will further significantly reduce services and support for people suffering domestic abuse, homelessness and drug or alcohol addiction. Osborne’s Autumn statement will exacerbate an already grim picture; the response of local MPs is one of compliant complacency.

Those who marched were made up of ordinary people from all backgrounds united by a desire to say that our most vulnerable can take no more. But while it was gratifying that so many were determined to take part, what really struck those of us organising the rally was just how difficult it has become to engage the charitable sector.

Charities in this country have a fantastic tradition not only of helping those most in need, but in drawing the attention of our political “masters” to their plight. One thinks of past hard-hitting campaigns from the likes of Barnardo’s and Shelter. But now charities have become cowed, frightened of appearing to be critical of government.

As government “rolls back the state”, requiring the voluntary sector to take on services that used to be undertaken by paid professionals (but with much reduced funding), charities compete with eachother for government contracts. Ever more reliant on such funding, they are no longer prepared even to nibble, let alone bite, the hand that now feeds it.

What a neat trick the government has pulled off: service provision on the cheap and a voluntary sector that no longer feels able to speak out for those who need their advocacy most.

Never have the words of Peter Finch in Network been so relevant: “I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore.”

Wednesday, 30 September 2015


If the treatment of our most vulnerable is an indication of how civilised a society we are, then I fear we are returning to the Stone Age. A report produced by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services warns that tens of thousands will face reduced help with basic tasks such as washing, dressing and eating as more than £1bn is cut from social care services for older and disabled people in England over the next year. Tragically, despite rising demand driven by an ageing population, fewer people will qualify for state-funded care while those who continue to receive a service may have to accept lower levels of support and a worse quality of life. The quality and reliability of local services will also suffer as a consequence of turmoil in the private care sector caused partly by an ongoing council freeze on fees, undermining attempts to maintain a “caring, compassionate and trained workforce”.

Funding to Worcestershire County Council has been cut by over £50m in the last two years. As the largest council budget, social care – personal care and social support services to children or adults in need or at risk, or adults with needs arising from illness, disability, old age or poverty – has been hit hard. 

To those of us fortunate enough not to have personal experience of mental ill health, a learning or physical disability, or simply getting older and more frail these are just meaningless numbers. For adults, children and young people dependent on the support of social care and health services these cuts mean the difference between merely surviving and having a reasonable quality of life

That is why I have joined the campaign, Stand Up 4 Care, to highlight the need for these care and support services to be protected. Please join us. (#StandUp4Care, Twitter and Facebook)

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

The Threat of Extremism

It was once said that “Freedom of speech means freedom for those who you despise, and freedom to express the most despicable views. It also means that the government cannot pick and choose which expressions to authorise and which to prevent.” I was reminded of this during a recent debate at the District Council on its revised safeguarding policy.

The policy does an excellent job of tackling the increasingly complex and developing landscape in relation to the council’s safeguarding responsibilities towards vulnerable children and adults. The well-publicised failings of councils such as Rotherham have highlighted how easy it has become – especially when government has become so fragmented – for appalling abuses to go undetected. 

But within this draft was a very curious recommendation with no obvious connection to safeguarding. It would oblige local authorities to ensure “publicly-owned premises are not used to disseminate extremist views”. Schools are to be put under a similar obligation.

It’s easy to believe in freedom of speech for those with whom we agree. A mark of a truly liberal society is one that extends those same freedoms to those with whom we would profoundly disagree. To challenge repugnant ideologies, they must be heard and tackled head on with reasoned argument. Those with long memories will remember the Thatcher government’s ban on broadcasting Sinn Fein representatives. It made this country a laughing stock and strengthened worldwide support for the Republican cause.  

We should not take on those guilty of illiberalism using their same tools of oppression. We should not seek to silence those who oppose the right to freedom of speech.  

The proposal is ill thought-out. What is “extremism”? A lazy shortcut to describe those whose views fall outside the “conventional”, but in no way threaten? I have in the past used public premises to call for the renationalisation of the railways – a policy supported by 70% of Britons. Our MP – now a government minister – branded this an “extreme” left-wing proposal. Does that make me an extremist? Am I to be silenced?!

As our government hurtles headlong towards mass surveillance (a policy from which even the US government now resile) and abandoning the Human Rights Act with no clear idea of what is to replace it, we should be careful of so easily giving up hard-won freedoms.