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Today “The House of Lords science and technology committee said ministers seemed to be mistaken in their use of what is known as the nudge theory.”  ( http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-14187802 ) Nudge theory is the idea that changes are made to the social and physical environment without legislation that encourage (or discourage) specific behaviour. One example of this would be for fast food restaurants to have salad rather than chips as the default side order.

The committee made the point that a balance of approaches should be used rather than relying solely on ‘nudging’ people.  This seems a blindingly obvious ‘finding’ for anyone who has worked personally or professionally around changing problematic behaviours.  Perhaps this is more about where power and influence truly lies rather than personal perspectives on what is a sensible approach. 

My point here is there is already a very well balanced set of approaches to something like illicit drug use where the agenda is quite simple.  The problems with balanced approaches and the use of legislation become far more complicated when things like minimum prices for alcohol and supermarket food labelling are on the agenda.  The challenge with the use of legislation here is that some influential organisations and individuals might lose money; suddenly there is apprehension about moving forward.

It’s great to see all the ‘courageous’ stands by politicians about ‘the press’ in light of the News of the World scandal.  But it seems unlikely that the same courage is going to follow through into other areas.

According to a report out today:  “The gap between the poorest pupils and their better-off peers in struggling  schools in England is wider than in other schools, research suggests.” http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-14082644

In schools below the national average standard a Sutton Trust study found that primary school children eligible for free school meals were half as likely to achieve their targetted standards as other pupils and by secondary school this had dropped to one third as likely.  The BBC news report commented that “these attainment gaps are significantly larger than the gaps between free school meals-eligible pupils in all schools and their peers who are not eligible for free school meals” .

It seems, from the news report, that this is to cause a high level of focus on these underperforming schools, and through them target the children who are struggling.  Although this is a necessary measure there is little or no mention of interventions outside of school.  From our experience of working with adults who have been undeperforming poverty stricken children it seems obvious that support needs to be offered in the homelife to give any chance at all of positive changes in the school life.  It’s a bit like focusing on achieving housing for a rough-sleeper without taking account of any of their other issues.  But sadly it seems by the time someone has ended up sleeping-rough or similar they are fairly used to having their life divided up into silos of support need instead of being treated as a whole person.

The Children’s Society yesterday reported on the numbers of pre-teen runaways increasing (link below) and the risks that these young people face once they have fled their home or care. The report noted that a child runs away from home every five minutes in the UK and one in three of these will go unreported.

As a society we seem easily able to understand the impact that this type of thing has on children and how unacceptable it is that they are left in such a vulnerable position. The report also said:

“Agencies are unaware of the scale and nature of the problem and often fail to see runaways as children in need. Yet the report reveals that a quarter of them are forced to leave, often fleeing violence, abuse and chaos at home.”

For us we know these young people who miss out on a good start in life and then slip through the net of services all too often end up as adults with some fairly challenging support needs. The tough bit for us to swallow is when these people aren’t children anymore ‘as a society’ we seem to think differently. But they are the same people with the same traumatic pasts, they simply can’t be seen as ‘helpless’ anymore even though they are officially vulnerable adults.

A few hundred years ago these people were known as ‘sturdy beggars’, and were punished for begging when they were physically able to work. Today society is still obsessed with people’s physical ability to work and blames ‘choices’ to become drug or alcohol dependent adults or their irrational and problematic behaviour as the reason for their situation. As the above shows we have to get away from the physical and have more capacity to work with the emotional and psychological state if people in this situation are to find a way to reach their own potential.

http://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/news-views/press-release/report-worrying-new-trends-increasing-pre-teen-and-male-runaways

After blogging yesterday about the Local Government Ombudsman warning councils about their conduct we encountered some challenges!  The Ombudsman’s report stated:

“We may criticise councils that:
use homelessness prevention activity to block or delay the consideration of a homelessness application

insist that applicants for help with homelessness must complete a specific form, or be interviewed by a specialist homelessness assessment officer

place the burden of proof on the applicant – authorities should make their own enquiries when considering applications, or

defer taking an application because the application appears to be a non-priority – any applicant claiming immediate homelessness should be assessed on the day.”

Yesterday one of our workers was supporting a rough sleeper with many complex needs including some real health problems and pretty much got a full house on all the above, leaving him to sleep rough again last night.  The problem is that this individual (like so many others) is a vulnerable adult and very unlikely to get through a local authority’s complaint procedure – getting everything set-up right to approach for a homelessness assessment was hard enough!  Therefore cases like this will never get as far as an ombudsman making poor practice in Local Authorities very hard to root out!

The local Government Ombudsman has expressed concerns around how Local Authourities behave when people seek help and advice around their homelessness issues in the current economic climate.  ‘Gatekeeping’ is the term that keeps popping up.  We certainly find it frustrating that the people we support who really struggle to engage well with support services and have many complex support needs can find themselves not only wanting help but needing to be motivated enough to fight hard in order to get what they are entitled to.

Dr Jane Martin, Ombudsman and Chair of the Commission for Local Administration in England, said:

“The complaints we receive suggest councils should consider how they meet their responsibilities to homeless people. We see too many cases where individuals have suffered injustice at a particularly precarious moment in their lives when they most needed help.

“Often extremely vulnerable, they can find themselves sleeping rough or on people’s sofas, struggling to find the foothold that would allow them to change their circumstances. When councils fail to give them a helping hand at that key moment, it can affect that individual for years.

“I am concerned that more people could now suffer injustice because of the combined impact of a tough economic climate and the serious budget pressures on councils. It’s really important that councils are alert to this very significant risk. We want to help them understand the dangers and take action to avoid mistakes.”

For more info: http://www.lgo.org.uk/news/2011/jul/lgo-highlights-councils-failings-legal-duties-homeless-people/

Further to yesterday’s blog post  (Fairness?) the Joseph Rowntree Foundation have released a report on income standards for 2011.   (see the full report at http://www.jrf.org.uk/sites/files/jrf/minimum-income-standard-2011-full.pdf ).  The part that fits with what we were saying yesterday, in summary is:

“For  families with children, by contrast, the earnings required to make ends meet  have risen much faster than living costs, because Child Benefit has been frozen  and tax credits reduced for many families. Most importantly, tax credits  helping low-income families to cover childcare costs have been cut. Typically,  families requiring childcare would have to earn over 20 per cent more in 2011  than in 2010 to meet the shortfall. “

 

Fairness?

The recently leaked letter from the office of Eric Pickles (the full letter is available at http://www.bradfordspeakout.org/documents/LeakedletterfromEricPickles.pdf ) has certainly caused lots of questions to be asked regarding the predicted knock on effects of the ‘Benefits Cap’.  Whilst being seen as a good thing for ‘fairness’ it is feared that the measure will cause an additional 40,000 homeless families (those families with dependent children being most likely to be capped).  The letter also expresses concern that the measures will be a cost to the treasury rather than a saving.

 

I think the point here is that the concept of fairness is being sold to us as a constant, when it is actually purely subjective.  It seems that the people who are likely to be in receipt of benefits that need to be capped (are above average earnings) are those with more children.  So the elephant in the room in this debate is a very old question indeed – should those who are reliant on state benefits have the number of children they are allowed to have capped?  Almost a hundred years ago there was a serious lobby for a eugenics programme to ensure this didn’t happen (more specifically ‘negative eugenics’ – sterilisation to prevent reproduction- aimed at ‘criminals, paupers and undesirables), and now we are simply trying to price people out of having ‘too many kids’.  Is that change good progress, bad progress or simply staying the same?

 

My concern in all of this is that if we continually try to deal with these kinds of issues by capping, restricting and finger wagging types of strategies, attitudes simply stay the same or become compounded.  Surely we need to find ways of breaking cycles not repeating them.  If poor kids keep getting poorer the numbers at risk of severe social problems will keep getting worse and we’ll keep seeing a high number of adults with horrific backgrounds.

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