Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Article: Are grown up politics on the agenda?

I was reminded this week of a well documented and reported case of Institutional Neglect where an estimated 1,200 died due to (as the investigation found) cost cutting measures taken in order to meet government targets. The cost cuts were made to staffing levels and in training and the industry in which this happened was health care - Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust 2005-8. I believe it's since improved enormously due to additional support from government. Does that mean deaths have to occur again before government will assist?

Alarming to think how recent that was, and alarming to think what might be happening right now as a result of so many cuts to community and public services. A different government it maybe but the same high risks are there. The same questions have arisen over the Winterbourne View abuses in August of this year.

The cuts have also hit charities, advice services, benefits, councils (who provide a vast range of community services from refuse collection to housing as well as being involved in the provision of educational and social services), and all three of the emergency services - fire, police and ambulance. Don't be surprised if rescue services cannot attend in time when cuts have meant a reduction in equipment and resources all three services want to attend fully equipped, but... If you are contemplating riots though, think again. The police are not the hardest hit, the ambulance service is so if you get injured... good luck.

Meanwhile financial services seem to have found the money to continue to advertise the latest 'must have' products and services such as personalised credit and debit cards and extortionate rates of lending for short term loans e.g. 3-4000% APR interest rates among other things (that means for borrowing £1 you could end up paying £4001.00 unless of course you can pay back early). They strike me as insensitive at best but mostly out of touch with the majority of their consumers - the latter example seems hell bent on profiting from other people's misfortune. I have never fathomed how usury could be legal, but apparently it is; nor can I fathom how it can be legal to have such advertisements on television in an age when ads for smoking is quite rightly banned as detrimental to well-being.

While Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust will undoubtedly have no choice but to learn from it's mistakes, it seem less likely that big business ever will. The drive for consumerism has reached obsessive levels it seems regardless of whatever suffering maybe happening in the world outside of the commercial world. It's almost as if there is a growing belief that any and all hardship are just nasty myths to spoil commercialism's fun.+
Perhaps what is even more alarming is the charting of government responses to serious issues such as child abuse cases, discrimination and equality as it's only really in the last decade or so that much has been done, but boy, what a flurry of activity there's been. Here's just a few examples...

  • No Secrets Guidance 2000
  • Every Child Matters Initiative 2002-3
  • European Convention on Human Rights Act 2003
  • Children Act 2004
  • Mental Capacity Act 2005
  • Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006
  • Mental Health 2007
  • Health and Social Care Act 2008
  • Common Assessment Framework for Children & Young People 2009
  • Working Together to Safeguard Children Guide 2010
  • Health and Social Care Bill 2010-11
  • Equality Act 2010
  • Protection of Freedoms Act 2012

It's as if our governments (for they've changed in the last 10 years) are on a catch-up spree with what has been widely reported and known by professionals and communities for years. I'm not complaining that it is at last happening though. these laws apply to every single individual working within any and all sectors involved with the provision of services for others. It's a serious commitment and yet the wages for the average person working in these sectors remains below the national average. By contrast if you are a business, Employment Laws, particularly the Equality Act 2010 and Health and Safety Laws are the minimum you need to know about. Perhaps governments in the future will eventually also get round to penalising and amending laws to reduce bad practises in businesses as vigorously as they do social and health care and come to understand what the majority of honourable businesses need to be able to function.

I've noticed on twitter that ethics are rapidly becoming a 'must be considered factor' in governmental policy making now. Disgusting that it should have taken this long to get to be on the agenda if that's the case. Perhaps if it had been factored in earlier we might have averted another global economic crisis. Maybe in this decade, new laws will not only finally catch up with what is required to protect the vulnerable, disadvantaged and basic human rights, but also aid businesses and encourage an increase in ethical practises there too.

Most significant of all would be a change from governments that instead of catching up with the rest of us, are ahead of us in anticipating what we will need so that instances of institutional negligence and financial crashes become less likely due to laws being brought into effect in time to prevent such things ever escalating to such woeful proportions. One can but hope, but there's a snag with all this.

While different parties continue to concentrate their efforts on bickering and slating each other I fear we will continue to get no where useful fast. In addition, while some legislation such as the above is undoubtedly beneficial, other edicts have proved counter productive and led not only to people feeling their can't or shouldn't do things for themselves but that they are safer in legal terms not to do so. A simple example: Some organisations will sack staff if they use a fire extinguisher to put out a small fire in a bin as having a building burn down is less damaging to their reputation than risking staff injury. It's as if we are heading for an age whereby none of us will do anything unless under license from the government. Costs can be recouped for a burnt building through insurance in a lot of cases after all.

More or less legislation?

For me, it is not a question of whether we have more or less legislation, but a question of whether or not the legislation is of value. Sensible legislation that empowers rather than debilitates us all from being able to function and develop regardless of which sector we work or are involved in is, in my opinion wiser than legislating on every issue that arises. We should amend and create laws that help protect, secure and safeguard our goals to work, live and co-exist in harmony and safety, but not have laws that restrict or discourage our ability to work things out for ourselves as it can all too easily prevent and prohibit progress.

Sooner or later, (though probably not in my lifetime), I would like to think that politics and democracy itself will have a major overhaul for as it stands, changes of government seem to invariably lead to more confusion, u-turns in approaches of the management of vital services when they should of course just be evolving and developing for the benefit of all.

It is why whoever is in power these days invests in independent think tanks. However, given that each political party employs different 'independent' thinkers one cannot help but question if they are independent at all. Is anyone devoid of political bias? Does the party in power actually follow their recommendations or only as and when it suits their own political agenda? In short I feel we need more agreement from our all our politicians these days rather than discord. Why is it that our focus is continually on our differences instead of what we all have in common as human beings?

Having think tanks in place now, begs the question... shouldn't we be electing the think tankers rather than politicians? Perhaps we should be thinking about dispensing with political parties in order to force them to collaborate for the common good. Would it not be better to elect individuals according to their expertise and comprehensive knowledge as even within political parties there is disagreement.

For most people politics has become a mix of who has the most convincing rhetoric at any given point over any issue or a question of which personality appeals; but is that how it should be? Policies, when they are revealed, never seem to go into detail about how they are to be implemented. Is that what we want to be voting for in the future?

Just a pondering - I have not reached any firm conclusions myself yet. Collectively though I believe we could do better than what I have witnessed so far during my lifetime and, so long as our emotions and private agendas don't cloud what could be fairer for all regardless of whether we are rich, poor; healthy, ill; working or not, I believe it should and could be possible.

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