Thursday, 29 August 2013

#telltheirsories #ifyoucanttelltheirname part 2

A development yesterday late afternoon as the county Council released this over twitter
Although they have released a timetable for disclosure it now seems that it's now six children that have died :-(
Given the protracted period of the disclosure that will take place the earliest of which seems to be the end of October, you have to wonder if this total of dead children will rise before the learning takes place.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

#telltheirstories #ifyoucanttelltheirname

Northamptonshire County Council has had it's third successive "inadequate" grading published. Whilst it's been badged as inadequate, five children have died in County Council care and despite this no serious case review has been published. The last two of the children who died did so during the second "inadequate" Ofsted inspection.
Here is the only news story that has been published about the deaths. Published in March there has been no update on this.
Council staff tell me that they are concerned about the situation with many qualified staff leaving and being replaced with unqualified staff and agency staff.
The Chief Executive of Northamptonshire County Council, Paul Blantern wrote to the children's social care staff on Friday stating:
"...Ofsted have commented positively in their report on many aspects of the work that we are doing:

· We are better at engaging and listening to the voice of the child
· We have strong leadership, both politically and corporately
· There is a vigorous recruitment plan in place, with a commitment to filling vacancies
· Our children’s homes are either good or excellent
· Our decisions on whether or not a child should be in care is appropriate
So while we know we are inadequate – and indeed, that was the rating we were expecting - I believe we now have everything in place to start making real improvements.

This is against a background of ongoing challenges in terms of demand on the service. Since the release of the Child Protection inspection report we have had a significant increase in the number of children that we need to provide a service to.

Since March, there has been a 30% increase in referrals to children’s social care, the number of children on child protection plans has increased by 17% and the number of looked after children has increased steadily. The number of children identified as ‘in need’ has increased from 4500 to 5300 – an almost 20% increase."
Given the concerns about understaffing  and an over-zealousness to snatch something positive from the from the third inadequate rating in a row it really makes you question whether the reality of the task at hand has hit home.
Heather Smith, Deputy Leader of the County Council, emphatically assures us that the issue had never been about money. The Liberal Democrat leader urges for extra funds out of the budgets from other Council Services to tackle the situation.
Closer scrutiny of the new Children's Social Care Structure shows a high proportion of Senior Practitioner vacancies and those which are vacant occupied by a high proportion of agency staff (some of whom earn over £36 per hour) and some teams having proportions of newly qualified social workers of over 60%. During budget negotiation, terms and conditions for Northamptonshire County Council staff were altered, making conditions of service in the authority some of the worst in the Country. Whereas every other authority has been recruiting on nationally negotiated pay, terms and conditions, Northamptonshire County Council has been recruiting with the equivalent of  one hand tied behind their back with a set of working conditions that no other authority have. Prospective staff with be right to view offers of employment suspiciously. Other directives have been issued to staff which state that there will be times when they will not be able to complete activity as required by professional standards in their contracted time and this will have to be undertaken outside their contracted hours. Essentially working for free. Is this really the way to get the best people to pull the service out of this hole?
Thirteen years ago in the same authority a child went missing in Council care (Sarah Benford) and there was nationwide publicity about this.
Now that five children have died and it seems that no one wants to know. I've been in contact with three different press representatives over the course of today and it does seem that those five children are dead and forgotten. With the clamour for no increases in Council Tax it really does seem that the children simply don't matter. Is this because we don't care any more about this. Or is it that whilst they remain faceless and nameless it's OK not to care. Whilst the serious case reviews are not published ... that's the way it'll stay.

Over the weekend I suggested that people who did care and wanted to show that they care could perhaps make a statement ... perhaps through twitter using the hashtag

Sunday, 4 August 2013

What is it that matters and how is it we make a difference

There are a few key news reports today that have really got to me.

This afternoon news of the report written by the coroner ofthe inquest into Jimmy Mubenga who died whilst being deported by the actions of G4 staff. Karen Monaghan raised a number of concerns not least of which were,

• Evidence of "pervasive racism" among G4S detention custody officers who were tasked with removing detainees;

• Fears that these racist attitudes – and "loutish, laddish behaviour … Inappropriate language, and peer pressure" – are still common among escort guards today;

Secondly was the news that when three officers are found to have been guilty of misconduct after falsifying records relating to pregnant Lindsay Wallace being strip searched and left handcuffed for 11 hours,  no one lost their job. Following the incident Lindsay was rushed to hospital for an emergency caesarean and now her daughter, Charna is now suffering from developmental delays after being born ten weeks early.

Lastly was the news that no one will face any actions for the collapse of the San José mine in the Atacama desert, 500 miles north of in the capital, Santiago in which 33 men were imprisoned for 69 days.

All three of these stories smack of huge individuals costs for the victims but no/minimal consequences for those who should be responsible. They also smack of corruption and working cultures and practices where there is no humanity and the human costs of such activity are expendable commodities. Perhaps it is my parents influence and their belief that the prevalence of corruption was something that they associated with the country they left (India) rather than the country where they settled (England). However it seems all that has changed. For whatever reason, sick practices that abuse people are more visible than ever but it hasn't stopped them happening. Slowly it does seem that there is more public outrage. The question is whether even that will make a difference.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Zero Hours Contracts


"What are zero hours contracts?" asked someone at the Northampton Borough Council Diverse Communities Forum.

Despite the media storm over the past couple of days, it still seem that people don't necessarily notice how badly exploited those desperate for work can get.

Where I work zero hours contracts have been an issue to giving advice on discrimination for the past four years or so. In the past if a company offered work but said that they couldn't commit to how many hours they could give, applicants would perhaps take the role but look for something a lot better pretty quick. With little availability of fixed hours for people with little skills or little experience in particular in retail, service and logistics zero hours contracts are the only option for many. For those on benefits it presents a descent into revising and re-revising claims that can take weeks to process leaving a trail of debts and payday loans along the way. It offers no security and presents a situation where employees are hanging on a string.

My daughter worked for Sport Direct on a zero hours contract last year. Assigned a 6am to 10am shift, she was often asked to stay until 4pm or 6pm at in the evening. People feel obliged to say yes because they fear the work drying up. This will always place people with caring responsibilities or those disabled people who need more flexible working environments for them at a disadvantage.

Most crucially, zero hours contracts can hide a multitude of poor employer behaviour. A few weeks ago Magda and her husband Chris came into the office. Magda worked for a company that provided cleaner for local hotels. When Magda applied for and got her job, both she and Chris were pleased that it wasn't agency work and that it came with a written contract. Magda had a history of ill health and so had asked for lighter duties as reasonable adjustment which her manager agreed to. Every week Magda would get a call advising her of the shifts that she should undertake. Although lighter duties were given in the first few weeks, after a while Magda found herself being asked to do more and more heavy work, until one day she fell ill after her shift. She was taken to hospital where she was told that she had suffered a miscarriage. Although, she didn't know that she was pregnant this came as a big emotional blow to Magda and Chris. Chris called her manager and told him what had happened and re-stated his wife's need for light duties. It was agreed that Madga should be assigned to a different hotel where this was possible. She was working with a new team and after a few days another member of staff came into a room where she was cleaning and said that the rest of the team had noticed that she was only being given light duties and felt that she was being treated this way because she was Ukrainian. The woman that said this to Magda was White British and she said that the other team members would be setting up a campaign to get her out. Magda went into another room and called her manager who told her not to worry and that he would sort it out. Magda left her shift that day upset about what had happened. Then suddenly, she no longer received calls advising her of the hours to work. When Magda asked her manager about this he just advised that there was no more work for her. Magda and Chris came to Northamptonshire Rights and Equality Council for advice and brought in the Magda's contract. They read thorough the contract and said, that surely something could be done as it didn't state that it was a zero hours contract. However since it didn't state any hour in the contract there was not obligation for her employer to give her hours given that she was not given the same consistent number of hours over a period of time.

It's clear in this situation and in many others that we have seen that zero hours contracts is a key safeguard to employer who either wish to discriminate or support others who discriminate as happened with Magda.

Magda and Chris's names have been changed to protect their confidentiality.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Don't be too sure of the "No Chance"

Cynthia Spencer Hospice is not under threat despite having to find £1.5 to £2million year on year in the future.

So where's the money going to come from. That's easy - it comes from us.

Don't I already pay for that in my taxes I hear you say?  Well er ... yes. But the local public LOVE Cynthia Spencer and will give money because they won't want it to close.

The problem is that there's only a certain amount of money in people's pockets that they want to and can give. Every day local people find more and more appeals for their funds. Many of the national charities have high profile marketing for fundraising, celebrity endorsements etc. These and other good causes are well placed to pull in the pounds. Other smaller local charities like the ones i work with are less able to do this and money reduces and reduces. When Great Britain won the chance to put on the Olympics a £425million was spent on the Olympic infrastructure which otherwise have been given to good causes. Cynthia Spencer Hospice fundraising to maintain existing services as a result of Nene Clinical Commissioning Groups cut will mean less money for local charities.

The local newspaper's story runs as "No chance of Cynthia Spencer closing". Currently, on it's Facebook page it's positioned just above a headline about Favell House closing. Another facility where NHS budgets were changed and the local community were meant to get behind to make up the difference. Sound familiar?

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Some times the unexpected happens

Last week I wrote about the proposals to remove section 3 of the Equality Act and amazingly enough following a defeat in the House of Lords, the minister in charge,  Jo Swinson announced that she was U-turning. Of course I told my children that this was as a direct result of my blog post ... but I really wonder why it was possible to get a change of heart on this from Minsters and not on other issues  like cuts in legal advice for discrimination complainants, the destruction of the National Health service or the Bedroom Tax to name but a few.
Did it make a difference that the proposals were being debated in the middle of a series of local authority elections? Did it make a difference that the removal of section 3 would have potentially had not only national but international implications. Whatever it is I really wish we could bottle it.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Spiking Section 3 of the Equality Act

The Government has had its eyes on the Equality Act for quite some time. Last year, I attended a consultation at the Government Equalities Office in Victoria about the future of discrimination advice. By the time I had left the building the Governments Red Tape Challenge had been launched with a plan to scrap the general duty. For the longest while they seemed to talk about launching a consultation without actually launching one when they did actually launch it is came with a raft of other proposals relating to the Equality Act. 
The consultation responses to keep the General Duty outnumbered those to scrap it by six to one.  However still like a thief in the night the proposal is not only here, but voted through parliament on a vote of 310 – 244 in that 66 vote difference 41 Liberal Democrat MP’s voted. In the 2010 election, the Guardian was urging many to vote Lib Dem to keep a Tory Government out to protect a core set of values about civil liberties. Here those same Lib Dems were vote en mass to remove the General Duty. Jo Swinson argued that it was unimportant. The governments briefing on the reasoning to remove it was it argued creating unrealistic expectations.
A significant proportion of Lib Dems at their own conference expressed concern over the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill and there seemed to be some concerted lobbying to try and get Lib Dem MP’s to at least abstain. It therefore comes as a surprise that the Conservative Peter Bottomley felt able to rebel on this issue whilst only David Ward was the only Lib Dem to do so. If you are still unconvinced about the need to oppose the changes watch the video. If you want to do something about it write to your MP using this site here. If Peter Bottomley can be on the forces protecting Equality perhaps there's still hope.
As local elections draw closer, the Lib Dems are trailing behind UKIP on many polls. In the Borough elections two years ago, they suffered heavy losses in Northampton. Some of the greatest of those were in student areas such as Trinity and St. Georges. With overwhelming more Conservative County Councils being defended in this election, and UKIP polling to get up to 20% of the Conservative vote, the May elections are expected to bring significant change.  It need not have been so for the Lib Dems. They sold their souls for a Proportional Representation referendum and still feel the need to pay for it.            

Saturday, 20 April 2013

It's about power

Over the last couple of weeks there has been so much it’s hard to make sense out of.
Sometimes it’s hard to know what the right thing to do is. Sometimes it’s not. One defining characteristic about 2013 is a level of brutality on a personal, organisation, governmental and international level.
Earlier this month we had the conviction and sentencing of Mick and Mairead Philpott for their part in the deaths of the six children. Then a subsequent news frenzy as rather than violence it was seen as the fault of a benefit culture by senior Conservative figures. Earlier this week it came out that Mick Philpott  was a Conservative voter an left bloggers alluded to the fact that it was his voting practices rather than his benefits that created the culture that resulted in the deaths of the children.
The inquest into Savita Halappanavar's death has unanimously delivered its verdict: her death was as a result of medical misadventure. A strong health young woman who was herself a medical professional died because the medical professionals around her would not give her an abortion whilst there was the presence of the foetal heartbeat despite and admission that the foetus had fatal abnormalities. Whilst senior clinicians protected themselves by citing the anomalies in the Irish law it was left to a midwife to tell the truth about why Savita was denied an abortion.  It was not because an abortion wouldn’t save her ... as it would have it was because of the country that Savita had the misfortune to be in when she had problems with the pregnancy. Savita’s death created outrage in India from feminists but supported by a wave of patriotic anti-West sentiment that turned a blind eye to the need for greater access to abortion for Indian women in India and more basic health care support for Indian woman and girls.
In the last twenty-four hours there is a new atrocity to focus on as a five year old girl is raped and physically abused in Delhi. The reports of the abuse, and the police investigations when she went missed is gut wrenchingly both horrific and tragic. As demonstrators demand that enough is enough, the police alienate themselves even more by reports of one of them slapping a protester.
The common thread is clearly the issue of power imbalances against women and children. Rather than issues about the state, this kind of inhumanity will continue as long as people think they can get away with playing life and death over others because no one will stand up and be counted in defence of others that are more vulnerable or simply do not have the power. In some ways you can argue that there are tough decisions to be made as no one wants to be accused with no comeback but unless more people stand up for what they believe in, then women and children will continue to die. Despite the fact that deeply violent and disgusting things have happened in India ... at least there is protest. All too often bad things happen in Britain and no one wants to know.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

It is a question of honesty.

The real reason why people are sick to the back teeth of job insecurity, rising food and energy costs, their friends and family members losing work, becoming homeless, becoming ill or acquiring a disability and finding it really difficult to get any support, but still not engaging in the kind of numbers needed to effect change.
People really don’t trust anymore because they have been lied, and lied and lied to.  Politicians of various hues have come along with a variety of policies and panaceas and are repeatedly found out to be untrustworthy deceitful individuals.  With Gloria de Piero, Labour MP for Ashfield asking why people view politicians as “Axe Murderers” (strangely enough asking people in Manchester, Yorkshire and South East London rather than Nottinghamshire which is the place she’s paid to represent) the real issues is the bare faced lies.
People know that they are being lied to because:
Of the U-turns
For so long people have heard that whether it be shutting down libraries, youth centres, or the introduction of the pasty tax, the policy of those in control is the only way forward ... only to find another way round it shortly later.
Politicians hide the truth
Northamptonshire County Council like many other public bodies is consulting on its budget with the headline to having to find £84.7 million of savings over the next four years. The Easy read version doesn’t even mention that the decisions are predicated on the assumption that reserves or an increase in Council Tax aren’t suggested.  This doesn’t even take into account that with changes to Council Tax Benefit rules Councils will have a tougher job than ever before in collecting money that they need to pay for services from people who simply don’t have any money.
Other Politicians grass each other up
Even politicians on the same side dish the dirt on each other. Probably the most memorable recent instance of this is Theresa May’s assertion that an Asylum seeker used the Human Rights Act to successfully challenge a deportation order.
With so much going on, the even more depressing news is that traditionally trusted sources of information like the BBC feel it’s OK to repeat spurious claims about the increase in Tax credit claims and tax credit fraud. For further information take a look at Sue Marsh’ blog here.