Ray Jones

Care costs: short-changed on Dilnot

Capping long-term care costs at £75,000 betrays the spirit and the letter of the Dilnot proposals. Only a handful of older people stand to gain Read more

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No seasonal cheer for councils

Despite Eric Pickles’ claim that today’s Local Government Settlement was a ‘bargain’, there was little to celebrate for vulnerable communities. Councils need to start telling the truth about what it will mean on the ground  Read more

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Social care: it’s a jungle out there

The big beasts of politics have once again ducked the crucial issues around funding in today’s social care white paper Read more

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Social care inspectors have lost respect

A series of scandals have exposed a lack of understanding of social care in the ranks of both Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission. The watchdogs need to learn from the wisdom of those delivering the service Read more

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Southern Cross wake-up call

The Southern Cross affair shows that it is not sensible to expose to untrammelled market forces crucial and very personal services such as the care of older people.  Read more

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Law review lacks vision, by Ray Jones

The Poor Law may seem a long way away. It was abolished by the 1948 National Assistance Act amidst the deluge of legislation that set up the welfare state. In the 60 years that have passed there has been a continuing trickle of further legislation, statutory regulation and case law. This has kept lawyers in business but has left disabled and older people and those who seek to assist them uncertain and confused.

It is now necessary and timely that there should be a tidying up of the legal framework for social care, and this is essentially what the Law Commission is seeking to achieve by its recently published review and recommendations.

The review collects, collates and combines the social care legislative developments. This is reasonable but it is not, as some headlines have suggested, radical. It is valuable but hardly visionary. Indeed the Law Review seems to be trapped in the past as it harnesses the history of adult social care into one proposed legal statement.

It still focuses on services, and indeed provides a list of what is included within the definition of social care services. This echoes the 1970 Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act. But aspirations have moved on from then.

Disabled people themselves have shaped and promoted an understanding of a social model of disability and have championed an agenda for independent living. This is where we are now and it is the future.

A review that has focused on bringing together disparate legislation and court rulings from the past has trapped itself in the past. It has also failed to address sharp-end issues that still loom large.

For example, there will still be a postcode lottery. What help you will get depends on where you live. Moving across council boundaries is and will be fraught with uncertainty and anxiety. This is at a time when public expenditure cuts mean that councils are upping eligibility criteria and the difficulty you must be in before you have any entitlement to help, and also lowering the amount of help you will get (and with the Dilnot review ahead on the funding of social care you will probably pay more while getting less).

Practice on the ground, with the drive forward on choice and control for disabled and older people, facilitated by direct payments and individual budgets, is only glimpsed in passing within this law review. The old jargon about ‘services’ misses the new focus on personalised assistance. The law review glances at contemporary developments but is gobbled up by the past. It has usefully simplified the baggage of legislative history but it has not stimulated a view of a better future.

Dr Ray Jones is professor of social work at Kingston University and St George’s, University of London, and from 1992-2006 was director of social services in Wiltshire

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The cuts: communities are the real victims, by Ray Jones

The Coalition against the Cuts march in London at the weekend got hijacked. I am not thinking here about the limited and intermittent damage by a small number of very excited, largely young people who were having a pre-planned adrenalin rush. I am talking about the many on the march like me we were demonstrating not so much against job cuts – but against the culling of crucial services which assist and protect those who are neglected and often marginalised in our communities.

Slashing services and public sector, and consequently private sector, jobs are of course inextricably related. But the focus of the narrative is of importance in harnessing wider public attention and support. I am grateful that the TUC organised the march, but not that it then became a contest of credibility between the unions and the government. The big story here, which not surprisingly remained untold across much of the media – which erroneously depicted the day as overwhelmingly one of violence – is about how the government has chosen to target the poorest and most disadvantaged as it seeks to undo the economic damage created by unfettered and greedy bankers.

This story was also lost amidst last week’s chancellor’s Budget statement, where the cuts to be experienced next week in the budgets for children’s services, adult social services and in welfare benefits were ignored. And the news now is of a government already intending to reduce the top rate of income tax it introduced only a year ago so ‘the pain would be shared fairly’, whilst leaving in place the VAT hike which hits the poor hardest.

Those working in public services are fearful about the threat of unemployment, with all that this means for loss of status and role, as well as income, with consequent personal stress, strains in relationships and ill health. But they are also concerned that the services they have built up to assist those in difficulty and to enrich communities are being dismantled.

This is the story which largely remains untold. It is the story of parents where the money does not stretch to the end of the week, of families facing the fear of homelessness, of children who are stigmatised and bullied because they are poorly clothed and do not have the money or means to join in the activities which are now the mainstream for those who are not poor. And of disabled and older people left isolated, excluded and vulnerable as care is cut.

Despite almost half a million people marching in London last week the relentless targeting of the poor and those who need help continues. This is not helpfully characterised as a battle between the government and the unions. Instead the stories within our communities need to be told of the real and harrowing consequences of the impact of the cuts.

Ray Jones is professor of social work at Kingston University and St George’s, University of London and was formerly director of social services in Wiltshire.

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What not to cut, by Ray Jones

This is not an easy time for local councillors.  As has happened before, the government is passing to local authorities the pain of deciding where cuts should be made, and closing off the escape route of allowing them the alternative of raising more income through local taxation. It is all the more galling when government ministers trumpet localism, which at this time largely means devolving responsibility without opportunity.

So where should councillors cut and where not? This is a time when even if the coalition government passes the pain disproportionately to the poor and less powerful, there is an opportunity for caring Conservatives, Liberal Democrat local activists and Labour redistributionists to stand up and be counted.

This is not a soft or easy option. It means not caving in to the middle class lobbyists for libraries, theatres and arts centres. It means not prioritising the roads lobby and all the disgruntled callers about potholes. It means not protecting funding for school support and improvement when schools themselves choose not to pay for this assistance.

It does mean cutting back on the central capacity within service departments and the expanded corporate services which were generated to feed the greedy beast of a controlling, performance managing and untrusting central government. It does mean putting on the back burner all those grandiose plans about economic development and environmental enhancement. But most of all it means giving an overwhelming priority to caring for and protecting very vulnerable children and disabled and older adults.

Why is this important? It is important because it is a principled moral stance to take. It is important because once care and protection services are decimated they are not easily reinvented. It is important because when they are lost the impact is immediate and often not reclaimable for current service users who are left vulnerable, stranded and in danger now. And it is important because councillors need to be mindful and wary of the responsibilities they hold and the the liabilities they may face if they forget their duty of care.

Firstly, recall Haringey. It was not only senior managers and front-line council workers who were fed to the media-generated mob following the horrific death of little Peter Connelly. Leading councillors also found their political careers and personal reputations in the firing line.

Secondly, there is a corporate responsibility for councils, and a possible personal liability for key post holders and decision makers, to seek to ensure the safety and security of children and adults who may be in danger and  very vulnerable.

Thirdly, amongst the decisions which have to be taken to make cuts some will attract considerable attention in the short term as lobbyists and campaign groups fight their corner for their interests. But who will shout loud for children in danger and for people who are isolated, stigmatised and marginalised? Their voices may be unheard now, but their stories will be told when tragedies occur and their care and protection has been found to have been neglected. They present a continuing risk to council and councillors’ reputations long after the noise of organised interest groups has subsided.

Wise councillors will be seeking clarification at this time not only about the corporate accountability for decisions collectively taken within councils, and the liabilities which may then follow, but also about their own individual accountabilities and liabilities. They will be asking for risk assessments to inform their policy and budget decisions. And they will be thinking of how to balance short-term decision-making difficulties against longer term continuing risks and liabilities which may come back to haunt and bite them beyond the current crescendo of cuts campaigning. It is no easy time to be a councillor, but it is an even more difficult and risky time to be a child or adult needing care and protection.

Ray Jones is professor of social work at Kingston University and St George’s, University of London, and a former director of social services

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Budget for the few, not the many, by Ray Jones

Tough times ahead, but it is going to be toughest for those who rely on crucial public services for their safety and for their quality of life. In many respects this is all of us, but this is most of all a sharp-end issue for families in difficulty, children who need care and protection, and for disabled adults and older people where public services and state funding are crucial to their support and assistance.

And there should be a real anger about what is happening. The rich and powerful have got us into this mess with their crazy senseless self-interested money making schemes, but they have used their still largely old boy networks and control of the media to turn the focus on public services and public sector workers. This is the privileged using position and power to define reality, a reality which protects their interests and rubbishes others.

And they certainly are privileged. Fifty four percent of Conservative MPs went to fee-paying independent schools and so did 40% of Liberal Democrat MPs (it is 15% for Labour MPs). And the proportion of MPs who had been employed in financial services (yes, those who got us into this economic crisis) increased at the May election from 5% to 10%!

Yet the story is of badly managed, poorly motivated, self-interested and protectionist public services where effectiveness will be driven by externally imposed economies and efficiencies. No recognition here of the public sector ethos of service to the community and a strong concern for probity and equity. No recognition that public services are a demonstrable contribution to how the state cares for all its citizens. And no acknowledgement that the public sector has itself been driving change, improvement and greater efficiency year-on-year.

The rehashed story line about public sector waste and laziness compared to private sector entrepreneurship, efficiency and drive is being used to prepare the ground for this week’s budget. The Right-wing Reform think tank is calling for the national financial deficit to be tackled through a package made up of 87% of public expenditure cuts and only 13% through tax rises. This probably will not be far of the mark.

And within the public expenditure cuts local government will bear a disproportionate burden. The Etonian and Westminster School-led coalition government will then distance itself from the painful decisions made locally. Taking the ring-fence off a number of central government grants to local councils is no doubt a part of the game plan to present what the coalition government describes as giving opportunity and discretion to local councils to make decisions (but with no local discretion to raise more through council tax). It keeps the government clear of the flack about local cuts.

And local government itself may play the same game. Those most in need of assistance in our communities are often the most vulnerable, marginalised and powerless. They make fewer demands on councillors than constituents shouting about road maintenance and rowdiness. Will councillors just pass on the pain to children and families already in difficulty and may be danger, and ration even more assistance to disabled and older people whilst charging them more for reduced services? Or will local councils stand out against what is happening nationally with the vocal rich and powerful looking after themselves and deserting others. Now is the time for local government and the public sector to make its voice heard and to stand up and be counted.

Professor Ray Jones is professor of social work at Kingston University and St. George’s, University of London. He was previously director of social services in Wiltshire

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Care green paper: just fine words? By Ray Jones

As a social services director for 14 years until 2006, I carry the scars and bruises. Some were self-inflicted, because of the personal pain I felt from having to increasingly ration services to disabled and older people. To keep within budget, we had to use waiting lists; rising risk thresholds; frequent reviews of the levels of care people were receiving; and redefined criteria about who were entitled to help.

When patients were then stranded in hospitals, when carers were under great stress, and when the daily lives of disabled and older people at home were deteriorating, the media and the public would usually blame the social services director. But most of the pain was felt day by day by those who were denied help.

So it is about time that we all faced up to the scandal of our heavily rationed and restricted care services – services that are still trapped in the Poor Law ethos of concentrating on proving people are not entitled to help, with local councils setting their own rules about who should be assisted.

The government green paper, Shaping the future of care together, is therefore to be welcomed. It contains much that is progressive and good, recognising that the life experiences of disabled and older people are not only about social care. To those civil servants who had to negotiate ministerial minefields in getting the paper published, well done! With a foreword by the prime minister, and the signed endorsement of seven secretaries of state it might be seen to have a bundle of political clout to drive action. What a pity, therefore, that it is likely to disappear into the sands in the run-up to the next general election and that it has been born at a time of public sector financial chaos created by greedy, rich but incompetent bankers.

And this results in one of the dangers ahead for all disabled and older people, and for those of us who will become disabled and older in the future. In trying to address the need to find more money for care services, a number of creative options are described. These include insurance and investment schemes and creating funding partnerships between individuals and the government to meet the costs of care.

Of course, another simple, fair, equitable and egalitarian way of doing this would be to increase direct taxes such as income tax. But this would generate howls of derision from the megaphone Murdoch press and those rich bankers, among others. This option in the green paper is quickly dismissed because it would place a heavy burden on people of working age… but these are the carers now and the aged of the future who expect a better deal than what is currently on offer.

So, a proposed alternative is to raid the rights-based, nationally consistent, easily and consistently administered social security disability benefits, such as attendance allowance and disability living allowance. These were largely introduced to meet the higher costs of living, such as travel costs, facing disabled people. But if they are merged into the cash-limited social care budgets, administered in England by 152 different councils, they will move from reliable, rights-based social security to what will still be insecure, inconsistent discretionary-based social care assistance.

The green paper has launched a debate. Let’s hope this time it leads to action. But let’s also hope that in the fights ahead, the economically weak, and those living daily with disability, will win. But this will require political integrity, will and strength, and a press and public who can see beyond short-term selfish financial interests.

Professor Ray Jones is professor of social work at Kingston University and St. George’s, University of London. He was previously director of social services in Wiltshire

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