It Was Always Thus

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As I follow Sara’s terrible account of her slow ongoing torture by the Health Trust whose systems and employees caused her son’s preventable death, I am continually reminded of Dickens’ Bleak House, the first book I studied when I went to university.

It might seem a depressing choice, but it is a good preparation for dealing with the law and other public bodies.

Sara, in her last post, asked how people experience working for public services today.  I fear many of them would recognise Dickens’s Court of Chancery all too well. Cases drag on interminably,  “complainants” become increasingly desperate, their anger either fading into depression, or taking over their lives to the detriment of every other facet of their existence. Relationships break down under the strain.The only beneficiaries are the legal firms growing fat on fees.

Yet today’s LA and Health Trust employees surely cannot be likened to the miserable clerks inhabiting Dickens’s dark world, aware of the situation and sufferings of their clients, but powerless to make any change?

While today’s offices may be brighter and have more ergonomically designed seating, power relationships still remain the same and all the information technology in the world doesn’t change that. Basically, just like Bob Cratchit, employees do what they are told. They know from the example of whistleblowers that, if they don’t, all the employment legislation in the world won’t protect them from being rendered unemployable.

In any office there are nasty people who will take advantage of every regulation and directive to be deliberately obstructive, just as there are others who will do their best, within the constraints of their situation, to be helpful. The majority simply grow indifferent.

That is why #deathbyindifference is so accurate.  Indifference is the default setting for any institution where the majority of employees feel little commitment or calling to their work, where they are powerless to change things and/or have cut-back practises imposed upon them. Patronised (at best) by their employer through tawdry rewards and dumbed down “training”, they soon grow cynical and bitter.

No amount of external inspection or internal paperwork can safeguard clients if the workers simply don’t care. Situations go wrong because nobody bothers to check or to follow up some concern in a timely fashion, or to make sure some point of information was accurate. In the end, somebody lies dead.

In Bleak House Dickens decried the indifference of his own day

Dead, your Majesty.  Dead, my lords and gentlemen.  Dead, Right Reverends and Wrong Reverends. Dead, men and women born with heavenly compassion in your hearts.  And dying thus about us every day.

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Yet we don’t live in Dickens’s times. Change has been made for the better. It was brought about by the determination and campaigning of individuals who cared. Those who campaigned to force the law to take children out of the mills and the mines, to free the enslaved, to educate the poor.

In JusticeforLB, and JusticeforNico, we have a campaign for our own age. It is daunting and depressing at times, but we tread in the footsteps of all those who battled against the entrenched practices and injustices of the past.

It isn’t easy.

Fighting for the little people never was.

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Rainy Days and Risk Assessments Really Get Me Down

Life’s Lessons 12  on Different perspectives on safety & protection

Today it rained. This was a nasty shock. Yesterday the local beach was so busy we couldn’t get served at the beach bar.

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Oddly enough, this made me think about attitudes to safety, protection and risk assessment.

Here a properly rainy day happens only now and again. A few days’ continuous rain merits much comment and discussion. Grey skies and solid, day-long rain are the exception rather than the rule.

As a result nothing is planned with rain in mind. (For example, the new metro flooded so badly it had to be closed and reconstructed.) Streets turn into temporary rivers. Things leak. Road surfaces resemble skid pads. Minor accidents proliferate as the driving population takes to its cars. The carless retreat into rainfall hibernation.

Yet, to Northern Europeans, it’s a mild wettish day, nothing to cause the slightest drama, at the very worst a minor inconvenience. No panic!

With regard to safety, however, the attitude is the complete opposite. Here, they only seem to pay any attention to risk, if you upset someone in the local council offices and they reckon they can fine you for it. They’re very short of ready cash nowadays at the Town Hall.

The side wall of our eight storey apartment block was painted by one man abseiling down it with a big paintbrush.  He couldn’t manage the front balconies, so the Community (ie Residents’ Association) President hired a sort of fireman’s lifting platform and got two of his pals to paint them, mates rates. No scaffolding, no harnesses, no problem.

An elderly neighbour, who took a couple of tumbles on her mobility scooter as she made her daily round of the village cafe/bars, was reluctantly persuaded to take up residence in the local care home.
Now a cheerful young man pushes her wheelchair up to the bar at lunch time. There is a vertiginous slope at the entrance, everybody smokes on the crowded terrace, there is nobody to help her (except the barmaid) to get to the toilet. I can’t imagine what a risk assessment would look like, especially as she is going there specifically for the purpose of consuming alcoholic liquor and calorie ridden fried food.

Last weekend at the beach I met a party of elderly nuns pushing their equally elderly wheelchair dependent charges down the rickety boardwalk to the water’s edge and some of them were smoking! (The charges, not the nuns!) Try doing a risk assessment on that!

Somehow the “protection” industry in the UK seems to have burgeoned into an oppressive, faux-legalistic, narrow-minded killjoy. In control-freak mode, public authorities seek to impose a tedious, long-winded, timorous value system on the powerless. Yet, if anything, we seem less safe where and when it really matters, like nighttime and weekends in hospitals.  Normal reasonable care and sensible attention to basic safety considerations seem to have gone by the board, buried deep in paperwork.

Personally, I’d rather be wheeled down to the seaside on a dodgy boardwalk by a doddery nun than stuck in a smugly safe, box ticked communal lounge with a booming television and a bored carer for company.

And now, I’m delighted to say, it’s stopped raining!

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