Sunday, May 08, 2011

On the Big Society

My sole remaining grandparent is 89 years old. Her husband has been dead for nearly a decade. She's entirely blind in one eye and half-blind in the other, is unable to hear without a hearing-aid, has skin as thin as tissue paper, suffers from crippling arthritis and cannot walk unaided. She hasa special alarm buzzer to press if she falls, which happens frequently. Yet she's generous, and happy (helped by large quantities of morphine), and upstairs she's sharp as a tack.

For the last 8 or 9 years she's had regular visits from the social services to help her with various things, in particular the preparation of meals, since she's very shaky. Earlier this year she suffered a bad fall, dislocating her hip. For a few weeks they moved her from hospital to hospital, and for six weeks after that they helped her rehabilitate to life on her own again.

Now she's been told that they've reassessed her situation and determined that she doesn't need help from the social services, and that they therefore won't be supporting her at all any more. When this decision was questioned by one of my aunts, she was patronizingly told that my grandmother should try to look for some randomer in the village to look after her. Because of course looking after old people requires no skill or training at all.

There's more to it than her situation changing, of course; old people don't suddenly recover from arthritis and regain their hearing and sight. As far as I can tell, this development is a direct consequence of the Carers Strategy, a recent government initiative, which contains such gems of euphemistic Tory bullshittery as 'Our Big Society reforms will see public services opened to challenge'. More worrying in these documents is the complete lack of any distinction drawn between trained professional carers and those who have no training and carry out the role through necessity. But of course the Big Society is all about people with no training taking on roles at which they will epically fail.

Philip Pullman has put it better than I could with respect to the similar situation facing librarians: 'Does [the government] think the job of a librarian is so simple, so empty of content, that anyone can step up and do it for a thank-you and a cup of tea? Does he think that all a librarian does is to tidy the shelves?' Pullman is 100% right, and his point is an important one even if you don't personally care about libraries, if only to forestall the chilling reductio ad absurdum that our beloved coalition government is currently pursuing. To put it bluntly: few people are going to die because of a lack of trained librarians. With carers, on the other hand...

And soon the NHS is going to be 'liberated', as well. Apparently this new approach 'puts people in the driving seat' - what, as opposed to the monkeys/robots/nodding dogs/aliens/vampires/cheese graters that were there before? This isn't just empty rhetoric; it's empty rhetoric that will kill thousands of people. Please sign the petition to save the NHS if you haven't already.

As for me, I'm tired of trying to phrase my criticisms of this government's abhorrent disregard for society in a witty, urbane, disinterested way. FUCK YOU, David Cameron, you ignorant, slimy, self-satisfied rich kid. FUCK YOU, Conservatives. And to anyone who reads this and voted Tory in the last election: I hope you're fucking ashamed of yourself. You've helped to elect a government that's tearing down our society brick by brick, and putting our country on the road to self-disintegration.

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