Capital? VALUES?

It’s a while since I did a post on anything other than parenting or writing or any kind of rant of statement of my position on something. Mostly this is because I realise I have fairly strong views on a lot of subjects which people often do not agree with. While I enjoy discussion and debate, that’s not what I’m trying to do and to enter into debate properly is, frankly, exhausting and I have plenty of other drains on my time and energy.

I just felt this morning though that I’d like to get something off my chest.

Capital punishment. It’s Just Not Right. No-one has the right to kill another human being. It’s THAT simple. Wilfully taking the life of someone else is murder. There are cases of self-defence, there are cases of insanity. In both of those cases I’d argue that the person doing the killing probably did not willingly do so, and they will have their own demons to face. But killing another person in cold blood is wrong, and it is uncivilised. No matter that you can use a drug that just puts someone to sleep – it’s still killing them, there’s no civilised way to do that. And it’s not always painless – there are states in America that are changing the drug they use despite clear evidence that the new drug causes pain and suffering.

What about child-killers? Exactly the same – they are still human and you CANNOT kill someone in cold blood. I have been asked repeatedly, usually with a smug air of victory, how I would feel if someone had killed my children. In that unthinkable situation yes, I would probably want that person to die, to be punished, to suffer terribly. THAT is why we have a legal system and justice. I have indescribable sympathy for parents in that situation, believe me. But what, exactly, would it achieve?

And I absolutely cannot buy into the argument that police-killers should be executed. Why are the police of more value than any other member of society? And I say, aggressively, that you need to be wilfully misunderstanding me to think that I am saying the police are NOT of value. I am saying that EVERY member of society is equally valuable. Whether it’s a ninety year old pensioner going to church every week, a police officer, a teacher, a nurse, a child, a drug addict, a criminal, someone who’s gay, someone who’s arabic, someone who’s disabled…

When you start differentiating between people’s value and worth, you become something less than human. I have just finished reading The Hunger Games. One of the things that struck me was Katniss’ fury that she and the other tributes were seen as worthless, disposable. But society is heading that way. There is an increasing reluctance to take on the responsibility of caring for each other. The NHS is in the process of being sold off. The provision of wheelchairs for disabled children, for example, is seen as of less importance than making a profit from that provision. Schools are being turned into academies – the provision of quality, free education for all children is of less importance than getting a return on the investment, whether that is in the form of results at whatever cost or direct financial return in the form of sponsorship from private companies. David Cameron (and, ironically, the only generation ever to benefit fully from the welfare state is the one dismantling it) is at the helm of these processes, but he is not solely responsible. It has been underway for years, and we are responsible because we vote in people who want to continue along this path. We would rather pay less tax and have a little bit more in our pockets than support the weakest and most vulnerable amongst us.

And one day it will come back to bite us. One day, we will be the ones whose investment has collapsed, or whose pension is being cut, or whose grandmother needs a basic standard of terminal care that she is not receiving. And then we will have to ask ourselves why our values have been so misplaced.


Tirade over, normal service will be resumed soon.

Unheard Voices

This is a quick-ish post, in response to some family circumstances that I’m sure are echoed throughout the country.

We are hearing left, right and centre about cuts being imposed on the UK that Margaret Thatcher only dreamed about. I’m sure she’s a very happy lady now – I guess I should be glad that someone is. While I’m upset about many of these cuts, targeting culture, education and the vulnerable, the ones that are really despicable are the ones that target those without a voice, who go unheard.

My brother is one of these. He is severely disabled with Downs Syndrome, although I’m not entirely sure he’d consider himself so. At 33 years old he has his ideal life: he has a part-time residential place, so he is able to keep an eye on my mum and dad while at the same time having the independence of his own space with carers he can flirt with as much as he wants (and he is a terrible flirt). He goes out on activities with his daycare provider, including trips to bowling or the beach, usually involving a visit to McDonalds. He has karaoke nights and he can spend as much time as he likes with his beloved tapes and DVDs. He has very limited verbal communication but he can make his needs known.

So what’s the problem? Well, the Social Services department that “look after” him allocate funding for his care. Their cuts, which they are ‘forced’ to make, are impacting on services to the disabled. They have two choices: cut residential care or daycare. Daycare is a luxury, so that’s the first to go. Seriously, his daycare funding is being cut – not in so many words, the wording is that responsibility for daycare provision is being passed to the residential providers. Of course, these foolish residential providers are focusing their resources on making sure the residential care is as good as it can be, how frivolous of them. The residential care at my brother’s home is very good – the carers are lovely, they balance independence with safety very well for some very severely disabled men. So they can’t really cut that standard of care; it’s obviously important to make sure these vulnerable people are well cared-for. The option then is for families to pay for the daycare. This is all well and good if they can but the fact is that many families can’t pay. Residential care is not free, there is a small amount to contribute, and many families of disabled people have had other costs to factor in – perhaps special equipment, or shoes, or large-size nappies as children have taken longer to use the toilet or specially-built wheelchairs or bikes.

Or maybe these adults shouldn’t go into residential care, they should stay at home with their families (and obviously some will prefer it that way – I’m talking here about those who don’t. Who want the degree of independence for their children and themselves that is generally considered the ‘norm’ when children grow up). Then they get the daycare and activities and social inclusion they need. What happens when families die or are too old and infirm to care for their disabled relatives? Well, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. They could perhaps go into some sort of institution – I know, they could do small jobs in return for their keep. A House where they do Work, maybe. Anyway…

So, for a lot of people, the choice is between safe, independent and quality residential care, or daycare. These people will be safe and cared-for but they will be indoors, with limited activities and usually unable to make the decision to go out for the day – in effect, prisoners in a safe and caring prison. My brother’s quality of life will be severely eroded. He is only 33 – he has a whole lifetime ahead of him to spend in this way. In fact, it’s akin to shutting the disabled up in the institutions where they were once considered to belong. I thought we’d evolved past that?

I used inverted commas around the word ‘forced’ before in relation to the cuts, because I don’t believe the cuts are forced at all. For one thing, there is abundant evidence that our national debt is nowhere near the level of crisis that is being portrayed. This excellent article by Johann Hari is a good starting point. For another, I can think of several alternative strategies to cutting funds to the most vulnerable of society. Maybe cutting spending in the military for a start, or taxing those who can afford it. Taxes – there’s a can of worms. The only generation to have benefitted fully from the Welfare State are those now busy axing it.We want state welfare, we just don’t want to pay for it.

When my husband’s nanna was dying, I got very upset about the lack of care given to her through a declining NHS and a lack of investment in training for medical staff in terminal care and basic nursing (NB I am not saying nurses are ‘bad’ – I am saying there is not enough training or funds or staffing levels to enable them to care properly). I know a suggestion of raising taxes would be greeted with outrage by most people, but we have among the lowest rates of taxation in Europe. Higher taxes, properly managed, could pay for those libraries, schools, nurses, doctors, care for the disabled. Are we really that selfish as a nation that we’d rather save some pounds now than look after those of our families and neighbourhoods who need help? Really? That is so sad.

And in the meantime, the needs and voices of people like my brother, those who will suffer more, are being unheard.