Frontline Friday round-up 19th April 2013: Understanding and empathy

Michael Harris /   June 29, 2015 at 8:34 PM 1,605 views

Here’s our round-up of frontline blogs we’ve particularly liked from the week of 15th April 2013. Let us know which posts we’ve missed and which other bloggers we should be following for next week’s round-up. This week: understanding and empathy – and where they seem to be lacking in our political leaders. A common complaint from frontline bloggers is those in power ‘just don’t get it’. Often this is in their apparent lack of empathy for the non-powerful, especially the sick, the old and the disabled. Sue Marsh wrote powerfully this week about the effective abolition of the Youth Premium: “Many like me, were fighting the welfare reform bill way back in 2011. We know every last detail, every twist and turn, every sweeping change and every technical detail. Believe me, it’s cruel. On the whole, I think the cruelty is in the details. Oh, not the headline grabbing Benefit Cap or Universal Credit. They’re largely PR stunts that won’t save any money at all. Universal Credit could have been rather clever if only ministers had understood the details. If only they’d really understood the people they were legislating for. Their lives, the difficulties they face, the traps in the system, the precarious fear of a life on the margins of society.” The Youth Premium, one of the ‘cruel details’ of the welfare reforms, supported children who were born so profoundly disabled that they would never work as adults. It is now subjected to a means test projected to save just £11 million. Sue compared this to a certain funeral this week estimated to have cost taxpayers £10 million: “Such a simple thing, but what did it mean in practise? What did it mean to the people behind the numbers? The lives being toyed with? It meant they were entitled to live independently if they chose to. They were entitled to benefits in their own name, not as a means tested part of their family. Often, such profoundly disabled children had considerable compensation to see them through lives damaged beyond recognition by accidents. This compensation was just that. Money for an expensive future of care, adaptations to homes, aids to independence. For a lifetime, this money would have to pay for support just to make their lives as manageable as society could achieve. No more.” Tanya Marlow put the record straight about Disability Living Allowance – which in her experience was traumatic enough – and predicted an even worse outcome from its replacement, Personal Independence Payment “It will mean a continual fear of not knowing whether you will get your money. It will mean that the most vulnerable in our society will feel sick to their stomach every time that brown envelope comes in. It will mean a cut of £2bn on disability allowance, but an increase of almost £1bn to pay Atos to administrate these changes. It will mean 500,000 disabled people losing all of their benefit, just so that the government could say they were targeting scroungers and could then afford to give a tax cut to the richest in society. This is what the changes will mean. Just so we’re clear.” In the same vein, Ramblings of a Fibro Fogged Mind and Jayne Linney wrote an open letter to the Minister for Disabled People Esther McVey, asking her to acquaint herself with more of the ‘details’ of DLA: “We the undersigned have been shocked and appalled at your and your fellow Ministers’ persistent misuse of facts and statistics relating to Disability Living Allowance (DLA). We ask that you make correct use of the raft of factual statistics and desist from twisting evidence. Given our concerns outlined [here] we request that you officially retract your recent comments with regard to DLA and PIP and issue a fairer balanced statement, based upon accurate data and one which maintains the integrity of Ministers in Government. We request you include the facts that PIP only applies to working age DLA claimants; that there has been only an average increase in overall working age claimants, and there has been no significant rush to apply for DLA.” Teacher Little Mavis also criticised ministers for their lack of wider social understanding: “We have Mark Hoban telling us that the £500/week benefit cap will encourage people back into work and in the following sentence justifying it by saying that working people have to manage on less than that. We have Iain Duncan Smith telling people he could survive on £53/week after apparently previously attempting to claim £39 on expenses for a breakfast. We have Michael Gove insisting that his new curriculum is designed to enable poor children to progress and improve their lot while ignoring the obstacles that the current wave of welfare reforms are strewing in their path like modern day caltrops. …The implication is that if you go to school, work hard (leaving aside the additional effort and dedication required to do that if you come from a deprived background) you will be able to go to a “good” university (don’t worry about the enormous debt you will build up to cover the fees and assuming your accent and/or lack of smart clothes and social capital don’t reduce your chances of a place too much). Of course, even if  you do get a place at a top university, you still have to follow this up by actually getting a job. These days it really does seem that you need to know the right people to get into some of the high flying positions that Michael Gove wants all our children to aspire to…” Laura McInerney wrote about the impact of the current welfare reforms on education, which is to say their impact on children: “While we in education have rightly focused on our own battles – Ofsted, the GCSE Fiasco, curriculum, budgets, free schools, academies – and though there is still more to be said about these, I simply couldn’t write about education alone when what I am hearing of the welfare reforms is stinging so hard… My passion in life is education policy and research, it’s teaching, it’s being in the classroom and making a difference. But sometimes, when things are so very wrong, you have to stand up and say so. Today was that day.” Laura’s article for the Guardian argued that politicians might avoid reality, but the rest of us can’t: “Changing the name of the education department distances [Michael] Gove from the welfare reforms, but it doesn’t distance our classrooms. The economy affects children. Callous welfare reform affects children. And while teachers make their classrooms a safe haven, while we rightly tell our students that trying hard and learning means we have the greatest shot at our dreams, it is also important that we do not allow the government to believe it is off the hook. Make no mistake: these changes will harm the education of many. And taking the words “children and families” off the door does not mean you get to wish that reality away.” It’s not just welfare or education. Child psychiatrist Am Ang Zhang wondered about successive policymakers’ understanding of their own reforms to the NHS: “They just cannot see it, can they? It is indeed very sad to see how modern perverse incentives that were used in other institutions were used in our NHS hospitals in one part of the United Kingdom: England. There really is no need to look further than Scotland to see what is possible. The figures are there for all to see and it is hard to believe that the very smart people that are currently running the country did not know. In the brave new world, English Hospitals (or their managers) need to perversely increase activity to survive (or collect a good bonus before moving on or going off sick). GP Commissioners (CCGs) need to reduce hospital referrals in order to achieve government imposed savings or if it is run by privateers to find profits for shareholders.” Jim Brown lamented a similar gap between leaders and practitioners in probation, in the context of reforms being made to the service: “I have to say I’m truly astonished and more than a little embarrassed to be associated with all this new business-like nomenclature crap that ‘go-ahead’ trusts are coming out with at the moment. Take Lancashire for instance with it’s glossy brochure singing the praises of its seven-strong team in the newly-formed ‘business and commercial’ department at Head Office. I’m sure they all think they’re doing a terribly worthwhile job, beavering away feverishly on ‘future-proofing’, but I’m equally convinced it will do nothing for the morale of hard-pressed staff at the frontline.” In another post, in his review of the BBC documentary series ‘The Prisoners’, Jim Brown emphasised the importance of understanding in the work of the probation service: “For me this programme once more served to highlight that this kind of work is not so much about process as it is about relationships. I’m always astonished that this obvious fact is not appreciated by everyone. Each of the men featured had a need to talk, a yearning to have their situation understood. They needed empathy and love like we all do. People ‘kick off’ and smash cells, self harm or turn violent when they feel they are not being listened to and are frightened. When a relationship has been established, whether it be with probation officer, prison officer, family member or tv crew even, a person begins to listen and respond to suggestions designed to offer help and support. If there’s no meaningful dialogue or relationship, there can be no progress.” Finally, emergency ward medic Alex Stoker explained the difficulty of getting understanding and empathy from those who don’t work at the frontline: “Recently, we had a tough shift. I can’t go into the details, obviously. But most of us, if not all of us, have a ‘worst-case’ scenario. The patient we fear most; the one that we dread. Even the non Medics among you will have no trouble trying to imagine the clinical situation you would least like to be faced with. This was mine. Actually, the case was run well; but the outcome was bad. Awful. I don’t want to be any more melodramatic, but you get the idea. And debriefing something like this, talking it out, is hard when you’re talking it out with people who weren’t there, people not in the business. Not because we’re special, but sometimes these cases are deeply upsetting, and there may be a reason why the person you’re talking to didn’t love ER. Or maybe it’s a defect of my character, that I don’t trust my friends to be able to process the chat in a way that I can; or have to; or think I can. I think there’s a danger of casting oneself as the martyr, then. The only one capable of managing the psychic trauma. Which is bullshit; I’m not that special.” If only more politicians had the same humility, they might be able to ‘get it’. We’re always interested in hearing from frontline bloggers, so if you’re interested in having your post featured on Guerilla Policy then do get in touch: [email protected]

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