So what would YOU do?

My blog-post "Social Justice or Something Else?" (here: http://itsmotherswork.posterous.com/social-justice-or-something-else) has had a second lease of life on the back of Polly Toynbee's comments in the Guardian on Friday 26 August about Social Impact Bonds (here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/aug/26/buffett-bettencourt-tax-rich?INTCMP=SRCH). In my blog i am critical of the likely impact of Social Impact Bonds and of the assumptions which underpin them. This has led some people to tweet me with the question "well, what would you do?"

I had thought that the original blog-post was pretty clear, but I can see that what seems obvious to me, already working in Early Intervention, won't necessarily be so obvious to all.  These are my views in summary:

1) I am in favour of 'early intervention' (both intervening early in a child's life, and early in the manifestation of a problem later in life). I believe it is an effective way of helping families resolve their problems and secure better outcomes for individual children and whole families together. It is therefore likely to reduce the long-term dependency of families on state intervention and to reduce the total likely cost to the state of supporting those families.

2) I believe 'early intervention services' (of which there is already a range, depending on the type of intervention most necessary and appropriate) should be professionally delivered and funded out of general taxation. All taxpayers will reap the rewards of financing such interventions because of the general improvements to wider society they bring and because the lower costs overall will free up funds for other services, or for a reduction in taxation.

3) I don't believe the government is committed to this work. If it was truly committed, it would not have reduced the overall funding available through the Early Intervention Grant (EIG), and it would not have removed the ring-fence from this funding.

4) Social Impact Bonds are not a type of early intervention, they are principally investment vehicles for individuals or organisations with surplus capital.  They are a potential method of funding early intervention work. But for them to be a successful 'investment vehicle' they would require early intervention to be managed in a way that is antithetical to its long term and holistic aims.

5) Social Impact Bonds will lead to prioritisation of short term over long term objectives, of easily measured outputs over harder to measure outcomes, will lead to competition rather than collaboration between programmes, cherry-picking of families who are easier to reach / work with, and include no incentive to actually achieve long term success – because genuinely successful programmes would kill this bond market.

What would I do instead?

– I would fund early intervention from general taxation.

– I would increase the value of the early intervention grant (EIG) not decrease it, (recognising that this is an 'invest-to-save' opportunity).

– I would ring-fence the EIG to be spent on evidence-based programmes designed to support families and individuals to take greater control of problem-solving in their own lives.

– I would co-ordinate support for families and access to these programmes through the use of trained professionals from relevant disciplines acting as 'key workers' and selected by the families themselves. Many local authorities already work like this through Family Intervention Programmes, the use of a Family Common Assessment Framework (or 'Family CAF'), and the application of the principles of Family Group Conferencing. (Although few are – as yet – bold enough to take the approach outined here by Hilary Cottam: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b012lj4k which I would love to extend to my patch).

– I would avoid amateurish, do-gooding interventions (such as Working Families Everywhere, which Tanya Gold takes apart so thoroughly here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/aug/26/working-families-everything-scheme-tanya-gold?INTCMP=SRCH), because I know that families who are dealing with multiple, complex problems need skilled, trained, well-supported, professional help to increase their capacity to solve problems for themselves. Enthusiastic cheerleading is just not enough.

– I would strengthen contact between professional disciplines, collaboration between services and an integrated approach to working with families, understanding that 'success' depends on good, trusting relationships and that these take time and energy to nurture and sustain.

– I would not look for quick fixes. I would understand that doing things 'for' families increases dependency, doing things 'to' families increases hostility and disengagement, but that doing things with families is the foundation of future success.

– I would build on the significant success of existing programmes, delivered through Sure Start Children's Centres, through community schools offering extended services, through integrated youth support services and other established arrangements. These deserve recognition, reward and greater investment to enable them to target specialist support more effectively while maintaining a universal offer to help them to identify families at risk.

– I would champion the professional skills and dedication of the children, young people and families' workforce, currently operating on a thankless frontline of social injustice. I would invest in their training, celebrate their successes and learn and share those lessons from the interventions that don't always work, so that our evidence-base of good practice grows.

What would you do?

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When the political doesn’t count as political.

Remember this advert from the Electoral Commission?

"Politics affects almost everything, so…if you don't do politics, there's not much you do do."

The looting and rioting of last week – we are told – was caused by "criminality, pure and simple" and does not have political causes.

It can't be political because:

– the rioters did not make demands
– the rioters did not belong to political organisations
– the rioters weren't rioting, they were looting. Or "shopping with violence"
– the rioters weren't all unemployed
– the rioters weren't all poor
– the rioters weren't all from the same race or religion
– the "rioting morons couldnt even name the PM, let alone have political reasons for their actions" (Tweeter I'll leave anonymous)

It is important for the government to claim that the rioting and looting are not 'political' actions, because that enables them to dismiss the idea that there may be a range of underlying community-scale social causes and therefore social solutions. Instead, by claiming the only cause is "criminality" (as though that were actually pure and simple, and not itself a political notion) the government can focus on personal responsibility and manage that through the criminal justice system (also political of course) and moralising about family composition (er…political too).

Something can be "political" in both causes and consequences, even if those involved in it don't have or aren't able to articulate conscious political motives.

Of course the rioting / looting was political. As are the responses to it.

If you don't do politics, there's not much you do do.

Special Edition Question Time Drinking Game Rules

#bbcqt "Drinking Game Special" ** offered to you with grateful thanks to @thatSoph who is the drinking game maven and @katz2010x who created tonight's first pair of rules.

Rule 1: The word "Criminality" = DRINK
Rule 2: The phrase "Criminality And Violence" = DRAIN GLASS
Rule 3: The words "youth" "young people" "kids" = DRINK
Rule 4: …when accompanied by "feral" = DRAIN GLASS, ditto for THUGs (thanks @EmmaInsley)
Rule 5: Any variation on "I blame the parents" = DRINK, ditto "right to parent", "bring back the birch", "never did me any harm" (@EmmaInsley again & me)
Rule 6: When a panellist blames a TEACHER = A DOUBLE (with thanks to @Rjpritchard)
Rule 7: A mention of National Service / Conscription = ONE SHOT OF HARD LIQUOR ( @katz2010x & @EmmaInsley)
Rule 8: "Poverty is no excuse" = GLASS OF LAMBRINI ^ (thanks @Shannonmkennedy)
Rule 9: Sudden unexpected appearance of Melanie Phillips = BOTTLE OF TEQUILA (@seismicshed)

Bonus Game of "totally unacceptable bingo" – Rules: When every panellist has said "totally unacceptable" once, yell "I predict a riot" and DRAIN BOTTLE

*caution – this game my turn out to be very bad for your liver*
^ in the absence of Lambrini, any other drink will do, even Mad Dog 20/20.

Please take all sensible precautions when dismounting from your sofa at the end of the game. x

Condemning a little less…. (Part 2)

Last night I used John Major's famous sound-bite as the basis for my blog about the riots in London and across the UK. He once said: "Society needs to condemn a little more and understand a little less". I am convinced that the reverse is true.

He was speaking about young people, and last night, so was I. But there is another group caught up in the current unrest who get frequent condemnation and little understanding. The police.

They have been condemned for provocative policing by some, and for being too soft by others. And many people seem to think the army would somehow do a better job. Let's not go there.

I was outside Fortnum & Mason on 26 March when the TSG arrived and could feel the light-hearted atmosphere disappear. The palpable sense of menace transforms the situation; you know that when they arrive, something will kick off. On Saturday night, when Tottenham's peaceful protest started to turn into something else, a police Tweeter urged the TSG to *smash some skulls*. As someone who believes in the right to peaceful protest and the requirement to police with consent, I find that attitude repellent. I could so easily join the queue to condemn too.

Like condemning the rioters, it would cost me nothing to condemn the police. That too takes no time or effort, requires no information or insight. I wouldn't need to find out how they are resourced, the instructions they are given, the expectations placed upon them. I wouldn't need to hear about how their previous experiences of public order policing have shaped their behaviours, sharpened their anxieties, impacted on their decision-making. I wouldn't need to ask myself how it feels to work in the 'rank-and-file' when some senior officers have been shown to be lacking in judgement (or worse) and as a consequence have left the force without the well-established, confident leadership it surely needs. I wouldn't need to consider how it might feel to face unprecedented civil unrest at a time when resources are being cut, experienced officers are pensioned off and a leading politician thinks that what they (and other public servants) need is more 'fear and discipline'. Or when a journalist, from his comfortable seat away from the destruction, can comment that it's time to "..tone down the gushing praise for the police […] it's what we pay them for" (http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/benedictbrogan/100100072/what-david-cameron-needs-to-do/)

When the police go in hard, are they mad, bad or dangerous? Or doing the right thing? Are they politically motivated? When they appear to stand back and allow looting or fire-starting are they making a tactical, safety-conscious decisions, or are they afraid? I find this video-clip from Romford on Monday night compelling: On the soundtrack, the young woman watching clearly appreciates the impossibility of the police taking action against what is a fairly small number of looters, because they are so completely outnumbered.

For good and for bad, the police are a product of their culture. I don't believe that we can maintain social order without some kind of police force, so if I want to support and help to improve policing, I must support the development of that culture. I must recognise that police officers are human beings making difficult decisions in difficult situations and not always getting them right. Yesterday, I blogged about some of things that I know impact negatively on the lives of young people which can lead to them getting caught up in and carried along with the riots. Many of the police officers I work with know these things too and often reflect that in the way that they deal with particular situations. I admire them and their work. And yet at times I have been policed inappropriately myself; roughly, disrespectfully, unfairly.

Good policing is able to admit complexity and to be nuanced. It is a learning process and therefore sometimes flawed. It is as fundamentally human in its triumphs and failures as any other endeavour. If I can know that fear and aggression, despair and bravado, vulnerability and challenge are two sides of the same coin for young rioters, then I must also be open to the possibility that they are present together on the police side of the line too.

No police officer should ever use *smash some skulls* as a rallying cry. Nor do I think that police getting their skulls smashed in the line of duty is "what we pay them for". So I will criticise a specific police action if I think it has been conducted badly, but I won't condemn the police force itself. In the interests of a city and a country that can sleep peacefully, I must surely try to understand?

Condemning a little less…

I am reminded of John Major's notorious remarks to the Mail on Sunday about young offenders: "Society needs to condemn a little more and understand a little less". He won widespread plaudits at the time. The same sentiment echoes around today. Everyone who is calling for rubber bullets and water cannon to quell the 'London Riots' is busy condemning. And I can see why. It's very hard for me to see how torching someone's home, or making off with an armful of contraband electronics can possibly be justified as 'protest', whether against the government or the police. I could so easily join the queue to condemn too. It would cost me nothing to condemn the rioters – it takes no time or effort, requires no information or insight. I wouldn't need to find out how their communities have been policed, how their previous discontents have been heard and responded to, where their anger comes from, or even if it is anger at all. Maybe it is boredom, or despair, or envy. Maybe it is just 'badness'. Or maybe different people have different motivations. Oh dear – it's already getting too complex. Why don't I stick with condemnation, then I wouldn't need to care.

But I do care.      

I was born in London, then my family moved out when I was nine and I never loved the city enough to live there again. So I'm clueless, really, about these riots. I'm middle-class and middle-aged and white, and I live in the home counties. What do I know? What could I possibly know?

I know that society is deeply unfair. I know that intergenerational poverty blights lives. I know that parenting in poverty is really hard. I know that support for children and families has been cut. I know that unsupported families often twist and turn in a vortex of financial nightmares, chronic ill-health and mental-illness, substance abuse and chaotic and sometimes violent relationships. Once in that vortex, cause and effect become difficult to unravel. I know that children raised in such environments are fighting a losing battle not to replicate those forces in their own lives as young adults. I know that fear and aggression, like despair and bravado, are twins. I know that "challenging" and "vulnerable" are two sides of the same coin.

I know that rubber bullets and water-cannon won't fix this (in the same way that they have never 'fixed' anything in Belfast). I believe that understanding will. Nothing justifies looting or setting fire to homes and businesses;  some things do explain those actions. Understanding causes takes us more than half way to dealing adequately with consequences.  

I may not love the city enough to live there, but it breaks my heart to see London on fire tonight. I have no instinct to condemn. I really do want to understand. And help fix this.

Condemning a Little Less…

I am reminded of John Major's notorious remarks to the Mail on Sunday about young offenders: "Society needs to condemn a little more and understand a little less". He won widespread plaudits at the time. The same sentiment echoes about today. Everyone who is calling for rubber bullets and water cannon to quell the 'London Riots' is busy condemning. And I can see why. It's very hard for me to see how torching someone's home, or making off with an armful of contraband electronics can possibly be justified as 'protest', whether against the government or the police. I could so easily join the queue to condemn too. It would cost me nothing to condemn the rioters – it takes no time or effort, requires no information or insight. I wouldn't need to find out how their communities have been policed, how their previous discontents have been heard and responded to, where their anger comes from, or even if it is anger at all. Maybe it is boredom, or despair, or envy. Maybe it is just 'badness'. Or maybe different people have different motivations. Oh dear – it's already getting too complex. Why don't I stick with condemnation, then I wouldn't need to care.

But I do care.      

I was born in London, then my family moved out when I was nine and I never loved the city enough to live there again. So I'm clueless, really, about these riots. I'm middle-class and middle-aged and white, and I live in the home counties. What do I know? What could I possibly know?

I know that society is deeply unfair. I know that intergenerational poverty blights lives. I know that parenting in poverty is really hard. I know that support for children and families has been cut. I know that unsupported families often twist and turn in a vortex of financial nightmares, chronic ill-health and mental-illness, substance abuse and chaotic and sometimes violent relationships. Once in that vortex, cause and effect become difficult to unravel. I know that children raised in such environments are fighting a losing battle not to replicate those forces in their own lives as young adults. I know that fear and aggression, like despair and bravado, are twins. I know that "challenging" and "vulnerable" are two sides of the same coin.

I know that rubber bullets and water-cannon won't fix this (in the same way that they have never 'fixed' anything in Belfast). I believe that understanding will. Nothing justifies looting or setting fire to homes and businesses;  some things do explain those actions. Understanding causes takes us more than half way to dealing adequately with consequences.  

I may not love the city enough to live there, but it breaks my heart to see London on fire tonight. I have no instinct to condemn. I really do want to understand. And help fix this.

Francis Maude is talking crap because…

Francis Maude had this to say in the Guardian today:

"It is absurd to expect that people can be paid the same amount in the public sector as they are paid in the private sector. People come in [from the private sector] to do jobs at senior levels in the public sector because they have an opportunity to make a big difference in the public sector, where they can work on a huge canvas."

(Full article here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/aug/02/francis-maude-end-lucrative-public-pay)

He is talking crap. Here's why:

1) Why should anyone be paid less for what they do, just because of the sector they work in? Even as a starting point, Maude's premise is nonsense.

2) That said, plenty of evidence shows that public sector salaries are already lower (for like-for-like jobs) than the private sector. The private sector sometimes appears less well paid 'on average' because these averages don't make like-for-like comparisons. But actually, and especially for jobs calling for higher level qualifications, pay is lower in the public sector. For details see here:

http://www.incomesdata.co.uk/areas-of-expertise/pay-reward/private-public-sector-earnings.pdf

http://www.unison.org.uk/file/Public%20private%20sector%20pay%20arguments.doc

http://fullfact.org/factchecks/public_sector_pay_gap_private_workers-2809

3) Across all ‘public servants’ they've only managed to find 291 people earning more than £150,000. This is fewer than a year ago. This does not suggest a culture of excess. How many earn more than this in the private sector? And for what exactly? I think we should be told. Where public sector workers do earn more than this, is Maude saying they aren't good enough at what they do? That the work isn't important enough? That our customers (the public) aren't important enough? Er no. He thinks public sector staff should be paid less pretty much 'just because….'

4) The so-called "side deals" outlined in the article appear to include travel and accommodation expenses for executives of a national organisation to live away from home. Where in the private sector would an employee be expected to pay for their business accommodation and travel? So, Maude thinks it's unreasonable to claim travel and accommodation expenses while leading a national institution, does he? Compare and contrast with MPs second home allowance. And then shout 'hypocrite'!

5) Maude says that: "These [deals] are a feature of the past and not the future. They were made when money was thought to grow on trees." I don't think anyone believes that money grows on trees. Apart from the government that is, who seem to be able to find plenty of it for wars, bailouts and bonuses in the rescued banks, and for the on-costs of redundancy etc. as they slash and burn through public service. Paying people to stop doing useful, productive work. Now there is a scandal.

6) Maude acknowledges that senior staff in the public sector make 'a big difference' and 'work on a huge canvass'. So he is clearly saying these are high impact, wide scope jobs. But he wants to pay less for them. Why?

7) Maude seems to believe in the 'feelgood factor'. That the 'big difference / huge canvass' thing will motivate public sector workers to agree to less take-home pay. Well, how does he square this with all the vicious anti-public service rhetoric of his government? And how does he square it with Letwin's latest suggestion that public servants need to experience more 'discipline and fear'? Not a whole lot of feelgood there, is there? Perhaps ministers should talk to each other and get their bad cop: bad cop act sorted out.

8) Maude is ignoring his Government's own commissioned research. Will Hutton delivered this report on public sector pay in March this year (http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/d/hutton_fairpay_review.pdf). It is robustly clear that public sector senior pay is not too high, and indeed does not match private sector counterparts.

So, thanks Maude for talking crap. I wish I could believe nobody was listening.

@itsmotherswork