Not A Domestic Goddess

I am many things, to many people, but I’ve never been the wife of a house.

The sun is shining on the happy children in my garden and I’m on the sofa, keeping one eye in them and surveying the mess with the other.

From my spot on the sofas can see:

A Nintendo DS, a Charlie Higson novel, a Power Rangers’ mask, two teddy bears, an ‘activity book’, a spare hoody, a school jumper, today’s paper. These items are all actually on the sofa with me.

The floor is covered with tinsel and battleships pegs. Lying or sitting on the tinsel and peg bedding are:

A dressing up ‘aviator’s jacket’, a toy handgun, playing cards, the drawer the playing cards are kept in (when they’re kept in something), NERF bullets, a dolls house, a Power Rangers suit, quoits, a school polo shirt, a ‘stroky’ book about kittens, the box the tinsel came in, a fire engine, a game of hangman, a hoody, a set of birthday cards that have blown off the fireplace, 4yo’s PJ’s, the box the battleships pegs came in, a painting (made in school) that has blown off the fireplace, birthday chocolates, a yellow plastic beaker, a toy T-Rex, a double-ended lightsabre, an action man (naked), a witch’s hat, another hoody, a NERF gun, a single-sided lightsabre, a toy ambulance, digger and cement mixer, a rugby ball, a ‘telescope’ made from a cardboard tube, another NERF gun, Darth Vader, Batman on a batbike, a cuddly dog, a home-made sock-puppet, a doctor’s outfit, a nurse’s outfit, a pretend stethoscope, a pretend doctor’s bag, a clockwork robot, a recently rediscovered babytoy that jiggles and plays music, puppets from a puppet theatre, a child’s cardigan, a single jigsaw piece, an egg that glows different colours, a wand made of glowsticks.

There’s a beanbag with the remote controls on it and a stool with a cowboy hat, a toy gun and a rubber tipped ‘bullet’ of the type that sticks to windows if you fire it.

On the coffee-table, there’s a ‘Something Special’ magazine (cover-guy, Mr Tumble), a pop-up book, girls’ nail varnish (the kind with glitter in that washes off with soap), a puppet theatre, a plastic box with dead bugs in, a blue plastic beaker, two Power Rangers’ weapons.

I look at the mess and I listen to my happy children as they run in and out and grab and drop toys for their games. The mess is fine.

😊

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Children: rarely listening…always watching. Why parenting matters.

The Government’s latest wheeze is parenting classes. 

The Beeb has the story here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-18114587

The Guardian has the same story here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/may/18/parenting-lessons-not-nanny-state-david-cameron?INTCMP=ILCNETTXT3487

Both stories show the Government is anxious to repudiate claims that this is “the nanny state” over-involving itself in our private lives. It’s the “sensible state”, we are told. 

Parents want help. It is in our interest as a society to help people bring up their children.

says David Cameron. And in principle I agree with him. I tweeted about these stories yesterday morning, saying:

There’s a whole lot of wrongness packed into the rightness. But fundamentally, he’s right. 

He’s right because parenting, for all its joys and pleasures, can be hard work, often lonely and help is needed; because navigating the modern world with our children demands more of us than simply replicating what our parents did (for better or worse). Things were different then. 

He’s right because homes and households are the cradles of our society. The relationships we nurture at home become the foundations of the communities and nations that we grow together, so what happens at home matters. Done in the right way, it’s healthy for us as a society to think together what good enough parenting looks like and to help families of every kind to achieve that.

So, having agreed with the principle, what about the Government’s proposals in practice? What about the wrongness wrapped up in the rightness?

Wrongness: Shopping for better parenting

Well, there’s the vouchers from Boots (and – to be fair – other places too). £100 for parenting classes. Hmmm. Many parenting programmes across the country are currently offered for free. Vouchers for classes aren’t about parenting. They’re about creating and developing a market in parenting classes. That’s about economic ideologies, not parenting practice. The transactions that these vouchers create and the messages that they send (good parenting comes as a freebie with your shopping!?) are problematic.

This isn’t helped by the fact that one of the organisations tipped to benefit from this new market in parenting vouchers is an old Etonian pal of the PM, with some…um…novel approaches to parenting, for which the evidence-base may…ahem…lack rigour. 

Wrongness: Ideologues colonising families

Does that mean that Government and public-sector bodies should be exclusively responsible for parenting classes? Well, no, we have to be careful here. Government classes that are in some way “one size fits all” – and in particular those that focus on validating particular family lives, styles and practices – could be propagating core ideological messages that are unwelcome to many of us; unfair, stigmatising, inappropriate or even discriminatory. Cameron apparently said:

…I would love to have a bit more information about how to get them to do the things I need them to do sometimes…

He might have been talking about rebellious back-benchers or naughty puppies, but he shouldn’t be speaking as a whip or a dog trainer. Parenting classes aren’t (or oughtn’t to be) about controlling and moulding children and creating an army of little Government-sponsored conformists. Here’s a great quote from Robert Fulghum (about whom I know nothing so he could be in every other way a wrong’un, but he’s right about this). He gets to the heart of what it is about parenting that really matters:

Don’t worry that your children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.

Our children are they way they are because we are the way we are. Whatever we may tell them, whatever instructions we give, they watch what we do and that’s how they learn. Parenting advice, help, classes and programmes need to be about preparing and enabling parents to do the things they need to do to provide the right environment for their children, so that they in turn learn and grow into happy, curious, loving, responsible adults.

And there’s plenty of that going on already.  

Wrongness: Ignoring existing good practice

 

 

 

My colleagues in our Children’s Centres were very fed up yesterday that there was no mention of the important work they do. There is already good, open access, universal provision of parenting and family support in Sure Start Children’s Centres across the country. The Government has removed the ring-fence from Sure Start funding, reduced the value of the overall Early Intervention Grant, and stated clearly that it wants to see Sure Start re-focused as a ”targeted’ resource concentrating on families with higher needs and vulnerabilities.

Many Children’s Centres have closed and many family workers have lost their jobs as a result, despite much popular local support for them to continue (as these images from some recent “Save Our Sure Start” campaigns show). For the Government now to be promoting a universal parenting offer through their voucher scheme is a kick in the teeth to all those who have long been committed to and involved in this work. 

Furthermore, it is a straightforward transfer of public good into private pockets (see above). What else did we expect from knee-jerk, neoliberal nitwits I suppose? But the fact that the Government is wanting to transfer the delivery of this work from the public to the private sector doesn’t invalidate the very good reasons for providing parenting programmes, any more than the existence of Bupa means that we shouldn’t want universal free-at-the-point-of-delivery healthcare.

Wrongness: So-called parenting experts aren’t ‘all that’.

The Guardian outlines the form that this new Government initiative will take:

Parenting classes will take place as pilot schemes, backed by a new website, in Middlesbrough, Camden in north London and in High Peak, Derbyshire. A relationship support service will be pilotted in York, Leeds, north Essex and in some London boroughs from July for all expectant parents and those with children up to the age of two. 

Elsewhere, I note from the Wikipedia entry on Old Etonian Octavius Black (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Octavius_Black) that:

Black’s parenting programme, Parent Gym, claims to be the UK’s most robustly evaluated programme. […] Parent Gym has been selected as one of the government suppliers for a pilot parenting scheme in Camden.

Oops! In the first outing of this blog, I mixed up the Mind Gym programme, with the flawed Brain Gym programme in schools, and thereby linked Parent Gym to Brain Gym. But Mind Gym’s not the same as the Brain Gym programme, it appears, so this edit withdraws that comparison. 

Nevertheless Parent Gym’s credentials are possibly problematic. 

In a curious welling-up of agreement with the Government yesterday I tweeted this link to the Department of Education’s website, where a range of evidence-based parenting programmes are listed: http://www.education.gov.uk/commissioning-toolkit/Programme/ParentsSearch

I described their advice as “good and useful”. But tweetmate and respected Professor of Social Work at the University of Birmingham, @ProfSueWhite pointed out that:

It is until you look at the research – some good some bad – not clear cut. 

She was right to pull me up short on this. But that said, I note that the ‘robustly evaluated’ Parent Gym is not anywhere among the approved programmes. Interesting, eh?

My all-too-rare agreeableness towards the DfE information is because some programmes that I commission and value have their evidence-base supported there. But I haven’t sense-checked the evidence for all the programmes (and in any case, the website itself ‘scores’ some programmes better than others), so it’s probably more sensible to give a qualified recommendation to the information. And it’s also true that where programmes have been demonstrably effective in some circumstances, they aren’t necessarily transferrable to different circumstances (new locations, different communities) or scalable to work with greater numbers.

There needs to be scope for innovation; scope for small, focused local programmes which are showing impact in the community where they developed and which develop strength, resilience and better parenting capacity within that community itself, even if they aren’t replicable or transferrable elsewhere.

But – as @bengoldacre pointed out on Twitter yesterday:

Parenting programmes work.

And that’s certainly true of some of them. So, yes, I must acknowledge that in this tirade!

Wrongness: It’s not a response to poverty

There’s a real problem with the way this Government repeatedly chooses to characterise people who are poor as troublesome. In developing its thinking on the so-called ‘Troubled Families’ programme, the Government used indicators of deprivation as the basis for calculating the likely number of families it would want to local government to work with and immediately made a strong, but unjustifiable association between those factors and delinquency. 

Another Tweetmate, @langtry_girl asked the very reasonable question:

If a family is unable to feed / clothe its children due to loss of income to a combination of cuts / job loss / loss of hours etc. do they need parenting classes / social services intervention? Or do they need the context of their parenting to change? Not every parent unable to provide, unable to cope, is a bad parent. 

To which the answer must be: No. Parents who can’t afford basic essentials don’t need parenting classes, they need support – of a financial or similarly practical kind. Parenting programmes develop skills, attitudes and behaviours in those who participate in them. They don’t cure poverty. But nor do these classes and programmes necessarily need to be seen as a response to ‘bad’ parenting. They should be seen as a resource, without stigma, for all parents in all social classes and communities.

(Having said that, social work with families isn’t all about ‘intervention’ in a punitive sense. In many cases social work involvement with families can and does help in really practical ways to mitigate the impact of poverty. So I’d want to avoid thinking of social workers as some kind of ‘bad cop’ to the soft, fluffy parenting classes ‘good cop’.)  

Possible Wrongness: It will lead to a massive increase in Child in Need / Child Protection referrals 

Lots of commentators have picked up on this, including both @ProfSueWhite and @langtry_girl in yesterday’s Twitter exchanges. The possibility arises from the dual problem of many experts not being real ‘experts’ (just know-it-alls with a particular brand of smug, middle-England, judgemental do-goodery in ample quantities) and the fact that being poor is not the same as bad parenting, but our politicians like to forget that and conflate the two.

Entering the home of someone facing real disadvantage for the first time, its easy to be appalled at the lack of ‘things’ that those of us who are more fortunate take for granted. And when confronted by behaviour that we ‘diagnose’ as bad parenting – particularly disorder, indiscipline, squalor, hunger, it is easy to assume that we have uncovered bad parents who need to be corrected, told what to do, and from whom compliance must be demanded; that they are “made to do the things we need them to do”, perhaps. Safeguarding children is everybody’s business, and sometimes parenting experts (with or without the inverted commas) will find things going on in children’s lives which absolutely do merit referral to statutory services. But it’s possible that we’ll be seeing a whole load of distress flares sent up by well-meaning but confused people who have confused “wouldn’t happen under my roof” with abuse or neglect. 

In my area we will be watching this with interest. Parenting and family support already forms part of our prevention and early intervention work. If the new forms of parenting support are properly integrated with other early intervention activity this could become a well-managed and proportionate pathway to additional support for vulnerable families. However, there’s no doubt that if things go wrong there’s plenty of scope for what @langtry_girl calls:

…an increase in referrals to welfare agencies of children through no fault of their families. […] this together with cuts to budgets means we are going to face a perfect storm of overstretched services, traumatised children and sky-high harm thresholds.  

But what about the right stuff?

So, let’s get past the wrongness, and look again at the rightness. There are some problems and prejudices of existing programmes. For example – tweetmate @JulieAnon made the point that the parenting classes made available at her children’s primary school ran during the school day and therefore weren’t available to working parents. This may have been straightforward thoughtlessness or bad planning, but equally could be partly an all too common conflation of lack of work with irresponsible parenting. In other words, parents who are in work are parenting just fine; only the “feckless” need help. Where it exists this prejudice is not only really ugly and judgmental, but it stands in the way of people who need help seeking help. Familes don’t want to be stigmatised by their attendance or involvement in parenting classes – on this Frank Field (someone else I very rarely agree with!) is right.

They “should be seen as something normal to do, rather than remedial, or something only for low income families”.

We all sometimes need additional support for (or challenge to!) our parenting habits. All of us have something to learn. Advice, help, classes and programmes should be available to parents from every kind of family and at times and in places which work for them. If Government’s focus and funding can make more parenting support available and lead to the creation of programmes which are flexible and responsive to parents’ needs, this will help. 

It’s a waste of money – parents who need help will ask for it any way

Many who decry the current proposals say this. Parenting classes are an unneccessary interference in people’s lives and people are perfectly well able to seek help when they need it. Up to a point this is right. It’s true that some parents can, and will, ask for help when they need it, but many others don’t. Some don’t know how or where to find the support that they need. Many are afraid to ask because they fear being judged. Some at the very edges of despair are afraid that involvement with any kind of professional family support will lead to them being assessed as unable to care for their children and their children being taken into care. Universal availability of high quality parenting support starts to break down these barriers. No one should be forced into mandatory classes, (unwilling and resistant learners will resent the obligation and are likely to learn very little), but making support freely available for all families from pre-birth throughout every phase of children’s lives – and particularly at crucial transitions, such as entry to school or transfer to secondary school; times of family crisis, such as bereavement, separation or divorce; or unusual challenges, such a caring for a child with significant additional needs – should work, over time, to reduce the number of families who actually reach crisis point and have a need for a statutory professional intervention, whether that’s social work, education welfare, youth justice or other services. 

It’s all just common-sense, isn’t it?

This is related to the above. We learn how to parent from our own parents. They did a good enough job with us, so we can now just pass this onto our children, cant we? Parents who find it difficult to manage their family life are inadequate / uncaring / feckless / just not trying hard enough. If you can’t handle your children, you shouldn’t have had them in the first place. We don’t need parenting classes, we just need fast-track child protection procedures and a no-nonsense response to the underclass. 

Oh if only it was a simple as that! 

Every week my colleagues and I work with parents who – at this particular time and in these particular circumstances – can’t cope with their parenting responsibilties. They come from all walks of life. Sometimes their difficulties are small, and can be easily overcome. Parenting advice helps to put those difficulties in perspective. Sometimes the challenges are huge; families are on the brink of a statutory intervention and the support provided must be matched by a challenge to those families to take all the necessary action keep their children safe. We look at their difficulties and the risks and vulnerabilities they face and we seek out their strengths, what will contribute to their resilience and what we can build on.

For some of these parents, they aren’t close enough to their own parents, siblings or extended families to be able to learn from them and seek their support; for some, everything they learned in their upbringing was sorrow and pain – they know they don’t want to replicate that in their own lives but they don’t know how to avoid it; for some, there is super support, the extended family rallies around, but the problem they face in the here and now is one that none of them has experienced before, and they are all at sea and rudderless. Practitioners who have seen and supported in all sorts of situations can help these families.

And so can other parents. One of the great outcomes of the best parenting programmes is their propensity to create self-supporting communities of parents who learn together and then support each other as they face new challenges. We start to recreate “the village” we know it takes to raise a child.

What does ‘good enough’ parenting look like?

We may be worried that our children are not listening to us, but we can be sure that they are watching.

If they see us willing to learn, they will be willing to learn. If they see us acknowledge our mistakes, they will be willing to acknowledge their mistakes. If they see us resolve problems without resorting to anger and violence, they will have other strategies when fists fly. If they see us do the things we have to do, before the things we want to do, they will find self-discipline, rather than needing to be cajoled or coerced. There’s a place for parenting programmes to guide us if we find any of this hard. Be honest! Don’t we all, sometimes, find this hard?

If our children see us try, and fail, and try again, harder this time, then they will have the courage and resilience to do the same. If we stop doing things for them, or doing things to them, but learn and grow with them, then as authoritative parents we will be providing the balance of nurturing and boundaries, kindness and firmness that they – and we – need.

It’s called love, isn’t it?

Everyone in “the village” needs it. And you can’t get a voucher for that at Boots. 

 

 

 

The Queen’s Speech – Marks Out of 10

The Coalition Government has declared this a “family friendly” Queen’s Speech. But is it? The Department for Making Hope Possible is staffed entirely by people who have families and are friendly, so who better to give the Queen’s Speech the once over to assess its family-friendliness?

With thanks to The Guardian whose original piece (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/may/09/queens-speech-bills-what-mean) has been shamelessly snaffled to form the basis of this evaluation.

Lords reform

A bill to reform the House of Lords has been included in the Queen’s speech as one of three constitutional bills, but severe doubts remain that the reforms will reach the statute book, as David Cameron’s aides continue to pour cold water over the plans.

DfMHP says: Bad news for the families of remaining hereditary peers, but – with their Lordships showing more humanity and common sense in the recent past than MPs in the commons – good news for increased democratic legitimacy of the upper chamber and thereby for the rest of us. Not directly family-friendly though, unless you’re a Kinnock in which case, it’s your “home from home”.

3/10

Constitutional reform

The Cabinet Office is also stewarding a bill to switch from household to individual voter registration, a measure promised by the outgoing Labour government. The new register is due to be in place by 2014.

There is deep concern that even more poor people will fall off the register. The number of registered voters in turn determines the shape of parliamentary constituencies.

In addition, the Cabinet Office says work on winning Commonwealth agreement to reform the rules governing succession to the crown will continue. These reforms would remove the right of men to have preference over women in succession to the crown, and also remove any discrimination against Catholics.

DfMHP says: Good news for Princesses but bad news for paupers who risk being disenfranchised. De-recognising households as the basis for registering voters seems like an anti-family move.

1/10

Social care

Elderly people and disabled adults will be given more power to make decisions about the care and support they receive under a social care bill. Existing laws scattered around at least a dozen acts will be consolidated in a single statute, supported by new regulations and guidance.

But more fundamental reform that campaigners say is needed to end a “crisis” in England’s care system will not appear until the much delayed publication of a white paper, expected in the summer. Significantly, the Queen’s speech includes only a draft care and support bill, which makes no mention of financial arrangements for care.

DfMHP says: Creates a couple of quangos along the way, but in terms of real impact on social care? These are not the reforms you are looking for.

Building services around users’ wishes sounds great, but shifts responsibility neatly to users articulating their wishes. Will it make it easier for relatives and carers to commission the support they need? Yeah – for the smart, articulate, capable ones.

2/10

Children and families – so the most “family focused” bit of the speech…

More flexible leave for parents, father-friendly access arrangements following relationship breakups, faster adoption processes and better help for special needs pupils will be included in a new children and families bill, designed to be a central plank of government policy.

Focusing on the shakeup of family justice to deliver a “fairer” system for parents, ministers signalled that the government did not accept last year’s family justice review, which warned against introducing a legal presumption of shared parenting. The review said such a move could create an “unacceptable risk of damage to children”.

However, the Queen’s speech included a consultation on legal options to strengthen the law in England and Wales to ensure that, “where it is safe and in the child’s best interests”, both parents are able to have a relationship with their sons and daughters after they split up.

The bill also sets out plans to speed up adoption and care proceedings and give more support to disabled children. The bill will create a six-month time limit for family courts in England and Wales to reach decisions on whether children should be taken into care and will require the court to take into account the impact of delays on the child. Many social workers argue that they are unable to tackle delays in other parts of the system – such as family courts. In another long-trailed announcement, the new bill will stop local authorities in England from delaying adoptions in the hope of finding a perfect racial match for the child if there are couples waiting to adopt.

DfMHP says: Govt ignores professional advice about risk to children, prioritises “father-friendly access” over children’s wishes, values speed over the quality of decision-making in adoption and care proceedings and indulges myths about systems and processes rather than listening to families and professionals who have children’s interests at heart.

As a side-effect, this’ll work out Ok for some (for whom things would probably have worked out anyway). If this is “family-friendly”, I’m Perry the Platypus.

2/10

Justice and security

The government has accelerated plans to expand secret hearings into civil courts. Rather than moving to the preparatory white paper stage, a justice and security bill will be put through parliament this session. Human rights groups and many lawyers, including those vetted to represent alleged victims of wrongful behaviour by MI5 and MI6, are alarmed at the proposals, warning that evidence that cannot be tested in court may be unreliable and could lead to miscarriages of justice.

DfMHP says: Ah yes, because disregarding human rights is just sooooo family friendly. Good if you’re a spook, maybe? Though not perhaps if you’re the family of a spook. They do like to keep their secrets secret, don’t they?

0/10 (plus some gentle throwing of stuff)

Communications data

The bill to track everyone’s email, Facebook, text and internet use has proved to be one of the most controversial within the coalition and has been slow-streamed in the government’s legislative timetable after last-minute coalition talks. The measure, criticised by civil liberty campaigners as a “snooper’s charter”, has been taken out of a more general Home Office and Ministry of Justice-sponsored crime and courts bill, which ministers need to get on to the statute book as fast as possible.

DfMHP says: Wouldn’t it be great if an opposition coalition of liberals and libertarian right-wingers sank this miserable attack on our civil liberties from the get-go? What do you mean, it’s a coalition of liberals and libertarian right-wingers implementing it!? Oh.

Everyone knows Facebook snooping only leads to family arguments. Least family-friendly measure yet.

-1/10

Banking reforms

The government signalled its determination to press ahead with banking reform in the Queen’s speech but intends to provide more details on 14 June when George Osborne delivers his Mansion House speech. The white paper outlining how the government intends to force banks to detach their high street and investment divisions will be published alongside the chancellor’s set-piece speech next month.

DfMHP says: Wasn’t it high street mortgages and other household lending every bit as much as investment banking that caused this latest slump (certainly Wozzizface Hammond thinks so)? Anyhow, good news if families are being protected from the cost of future bailouts; not so good that we’re all still paying for this one.

3/10

Libel reform

A draft defamation bill was subject to close scrutiny in the last parliamentary session but now appears as fully developed proposals in this year’s legislative agenda. Lord Mawhinney, chairman of the joint Commons and Lords committee on the draft defamation bill, said current libel laws were “far too expensive, which is a barrier to all but the richest”.

DfMHP says: Of no interest at all to the vast majority of ordinary families.

0/10

Crime and courts

The separate crime and courts bill will set up the National Crime Agency from next April, speed up immigration appeals and strengthen the powers of UK Border Force officers. It will also include proposals to introduce television cameras into courts, reform judicial appointments and allow magistrates sitting on their own to operate from community centres and police stations to deal with low-level uncontested cases within days or even hours of arrest.

DfMHP says: Good news for broadcasters seems unlikely to be good news for Justice. And magistrates dispensing “speedy” dispute resolution from community centres sounds like a recipe for young people in particular to be pressured into not contesting allegations that will leave them with a criminal record.

0/10

State pensions

Plans for a flat-rate state pension initially worth about £140 a week were included in the Queen’s speech as part of a shakeup that will also bring forward an increase in the state pension age to 67 between 2026 and 2028.

The government paper said it was “committing to ensuring that the state pension age is increased in future to take into account increases in longevity”.

DfMhP says: Look at what the Marmot Review says about the relationship between socio-economic status and longevity, and realise that this won’t make a big difference to all those whose disability-free life expectancy ends 20years before pension age.

2/10

Public sector pensions

Ministers are pressing ahead with their controversial reforms of public sector pensions. The changes mean millions of workers will have to “work longer, pay more and get less” at retirement.

DfMHP says: Public sector workers have families too. The race to the bottom helps no one.

0/10 Other

Small donations bill

Designed to allow charities, notably small charities, to claim additional payments to help boost their income. Charities will no longer have to collect gift aid declarations on small donations, but will instead receive a top-up payment for donations of £20 or less.

DfMHP says: Good news for small charities. Many of which help poor families.

6/10

Energy bill

Reform of the electricity market to deliver secure, clean and affordable electricity and ensure prices are fair.

DfMHP says: If only!

6/10

Enterprise and regulatory reform bill

Legislation will be introduced to reduce regulations on businesses, repealing legislation considered unnecessary and limiting state inspections. Competition law will be reformed with the aim of promoting enterprise and fair markets, and a Green Investment Bank will be established.

DfMHP says: Hahahahaha! When does less regulation ever benefit the consumer? Caveat emptor reigns. Family buyers, beware! (Couple of points cos families run businesses too).

2/10

Groceries adjudicator bill

An independent adjudicator will be established to ensure supermarkets deal fairly and lawfully with suppliers.

DfMHP says: But not customers? (Couple of points cos families are suppliers too).

2/10

Draft local audit bill

A draft bill will be published setting out measures to close the Audit Commission and establish new arrangements for the audit of local public bodies.

DfMHP says: Hmmmm.

0/10

European Union (approval of treaty amendment decision) bill Parliament’s approval will be sought for the agreed financial stability mechanism within the euro area.

DfMHP says: yeah, like that’ll make a difference to who austerity hits hardest.

0/10

Croatia accession bill

This will seek the approval of parliament for the anticipated accession of Croatia to the European Union.

DfMHP says: Good news for Croation families. Maybe.

2/10

The Grasshoppers Leave

P117

Hopper (Chief Grasshopper):

You piece of dirt! No, I’m wrong. You’re lower than dirt, you’re an ant.

Let this be a lesson to all you ants. Ideas are very dangerous things. You are mindless soil-shoving losers put on this earth to serve us.

Flik:

You’re wrong Hopper. You’re wrong Hopper.

*deep breath*

Ants aren’t meant to serve grasshoppers. I’ve seen these ants do great things.

And year after year they somehow manage…to pick food for themselves and you. So – so who is the weaker species?

Ants don’t serve grasshoppers. It’s you who need us.

*gasps from crowd*

We’re a lot stronger than you say we are. And you know it, don’t you?

*grasshopper makes threatening move on ant princess*

You see Hopper, nature has a certain order. The ants pick the food. The ants KEEP the food, and the grasshoppers leave!

Twitter feeds you REALLY need.

The Observer today has this list of “Tweeters’ Top Tips”: http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2012/may/06/twitter-top-feeds-celebrity-…

There are some gems in there, but also a surprising number of not-very-active / locked / they-used-to-tweet-but-now-not-so-much accounts.

And some of the “top tweeters” referenced don’t follow very many people or tweet very often. It’s a very different kind of Twitter to the place where I spend/fritter away so much of my time and where interaction is much more important than follower count.

Above all, there’s very much a “celebrity will eat itself” tone to the piece, even allowing for the more quirky, humane, unusual recommendations.

That said, “celebrity Twitter” is as much ‘the real Twitter’ as the little corner of it that I inhabit. But if you’re wondering what’s hot in my corner of the Twitterverse, here are my Top Tweeters:

(List massively skewed by my own declared love of politics, social justice, public service, children’s services and stuff.)

@HeardinLondon
One of the biggest hearts on Twitter. Photo-genius. Cares about the stuff that really matters. #giveblood

@GlennyRodge
Another big heart. Jokes as bad as my Dad’s (in a good way); makes me giggle or groan or both every day. My goodnight kiss most nights. x

@DearDaveandNick
Brilliant artwork as political commentary. Always what I would want to say if I only had the talent.

@mattleys
Loves the #NHS and willing to fight for it. Another photo-genius. Super-cute daughters with a great line in hats.

@cpeedell
If there was any justice in this world, his personal contribution to the battle for the NHS would have won the day. Not giving up either. Great man.

@ilegal
Another fighter. This time for Legal Aid. Plus he took on a Twitter challenge I set him so I owe him a pint.

@MaxPemberton
If you can only bear to follow one Telegraph columnist, make it Max. Loves the NHS. Knows a f*ckup when he sees it and calls it as such.

@SimonNRicketts
Didn’t we /all/ miss him while he was away? Along with Mr Rodge made me care more about the footballing fortunes of Wealdstone than I’d ever believe possible. Pub-tweets are genius. Can’t wait for a return to full strength.

@langtry_girl
The world would be a better place if she was in charge. #onenationunderthelangtry for a more decent, humane yet still economically competent world. Disagrees with you with charm, so a pleasure to discuss things with. Nicer still to find ones-self on the same side.

@sturdyalex
Funny, clever, angry, pithy. Blogs with passion and wit. And gorgeous. Great coffee date. x

@martinrowson
Frequently makes my day with his latest political cartoon. Doesn’t hold back on Twitter. Scathing about – well – all that stuff that anyone with sense feels scathing about.

@bengoldacre
Properly politically angry about stuff that matters; committed to integrity of evidence. In a world of policy-based evidence-making, that can only be a good thing.

@soniapoulton
If you can just about bear to read one Daily Mail blogger, Sonia’s the one. Unexpected.

@patrickjbutler
Tirelessly documenting the increasingly ghastly mess the coalition government is going to leave us in. A breadcrumb trail to various corners of policy-related stupidity.

@wheresbenefit @patspetition @brokenofbritain
Fighting for the people who’ve really had the stuffing knocked out of them by this government.

@schooltruth
Fiona Millar in fine form keeping an eye on creeping privatisation and elitism in state education. But just because she’s watching, doesn’t mean you don’t have to.

@LocalSchools_UK
Links to well-researched debunking of Gove-ist mission to ruin education for this generation and the next.

@miss_mcinerney @LKMco @schoolduggery
Sensible, knowledgeable tweeting about education. Good links.

@ThatIanGilbert
As sensible and knowledgeable as the above with an added layer of left-leaning partisanship that I particularly love.

@tombennett71
No fence-sitting; always engages; brilliant blogger. Soooo evidently knows his stuff. His battles (and occasional agreements) with @oldandrewuk are terrific. Book front row seats. Add @LearningSpy to the mix, light the blue touch paper and stand well back.

@SysThinkReview
Twitter voicebox of John Seddon & crew. Much common sense about idiocy in public service reform. “Vanguard” is their approach, but sensible observation of the rich variety that is human life and human problems is the underpinning principle. You will work better if you read these tweets. Haul @SimonJGuilfoyle into your feed to see practical systems thinking in action.

@theneweconomics and @AndrewSimms_nef
Not the busiest feeds, but worth a follow because nef thinks differently. And makes me think differently. About everything. Then follow @actionhappiness
because then the rest of it makes sense.

@Livable4all
Ever thought about a guaranteed minimum income? No? Well do. Not as impossible as it may seem.

@HouseofTwits
Means you don’t have to follow politicians who will drive you to “Falling Down” levels of hatred and despair, because they’ll RT the best bits into your timeline.

@helenmew @richsimcox
Trade unionism as its meant to be, not as the right wing press would like to caricature it.

@_millymoo
Smart, knowledgeable blogging about the law, and particularly as it affects women and children. When I’m asked if I know /any/ nice Tories, she’s the one.

@onein4
The impact of domestic abuse and intimate partner violence on women and children in particular. Grim, necessary reading.

@SexEdUKation
Common sense on sex education. Raising children in a sex-positive way, rather than hyper-sexualising their world.

@prymface
Lose the unworthy stereotype in your head about “Teen Mums”. They deserve our respect, not our condemnation. Intelligent, empowered commentary. Doesn’t stand for nonsense.

@ThinkBirth
Lovely midwifery and empowered birth tweets and links. Very special.

@puffles2010
Curates beautifully; finds interesting links, makes good Twitter introductions.

@Ermintrude2
Another great Twitter curator. RTs loads of great stuff into my timeline. Really knows social care.

@swscmedia (and #swscmedia) for interesting debate and discussion re: social work and social care.

@HarpyMarx @LisaAnsell @DawnHFoster @Hangbitch @QOFE @sandyd68 @kaygeeuk @sianuska @stavvers @smkatz2010 @brixtonite @TheNatFantastic @loftspace @andromedababe
Engaging, busy, funny, angry, each uniquely brilliant. How dare I group such a diverse range of fabulous women together?! Really just to say that if you’re missing any of these in your Twitterfeed you’re missing out.

@WeLoveLocalGov
Because we do. Local government makes the world go round. You’d miss us if we all went home. Frankly you’d miss us if we only worked our contracted hours.

@KeithFlett
Because he’s /the/ Keith Flett. If you grew up with the Guardian Letters page, that’s all you need to know. (Beards, real ale, trade unionism, wit – for the uninitiated).

@michaelrosenyes
Angry, angry, angry, especially about education. Fearlessly anti-establishment. Developing a vein of zany hashtaggery all his own.

@sweden
The first of the “different national representative every week” sites. Original and best.

@ElspethMurray
Politics and puppets. What else do you need?

@LondonIrishNews @fromtheruck @LiRFC
Do I have to explain these ones? Every Tweeter has at least one secondary enthusiasm. When the politics stops, mine’s rugby.

Dear Nick Clegg…

P103

Apparently you are hoping that people will one day acknowledge your party’s role in the coalition, combining “responsibility on the economy with social fairness”.

This would be more likely if:

a) you had demonstrated economic responsibility, instead of hitching a ride with a slash and burn Chancellor whose scorched earth policies are defeating the prospects of a restored economy and turning every ‘green shoot’ into a charred stump, and…

b) if you showed any sign of understanding economic fairness. But you don’t. You can shout all you like about the income tax threshold and the pupil premium, but when the Govt you are part of raises VAT for everyone but cuts the top rate of tax for the rich, removes EMA, massively increases tuition fees, pushes families out of their homes and communities for the simple ‘crime’ of poverty, cuts important support to the sick and disabled, removes the safety-net of a universal NHS then you can’t be differentiated from the other well-cushioned millionaires in the cabinet.

I think most of us will remember the promises you have broken. And we will tell you where you and your party can stick you ‘unique role’.

The Theo Paphitis virtuous cycle…

When Theo Paphitis seemed to claim on Question Time tonight that philanthropy was a better use for the surplus cash of the rich than – y’know – paying their taxes, I squawked. Because giving money to charity is a ‘wiser’ use of those funds than – haha! – letting the exchequer use them. My natural instinct was to chuck stuff at my telly.

After all, surely if that were true, the unprecedented conditions in which we find ourselves (where despite austerity, the ultra-rich are £14billion better off than they were a year ago) would lead to all these wise, wealthy entrepreneurs spending their money on supporting the vulnerable, combating ill-health, ending homelessness, worklessness, domestic abuse etc. The diversion of the nation’s wealth into the pockets of the rich would make the world a better place for all of us, wouldn’t it, if that were true.

But that isn’t the case. So he was talking bollocks, wasn’t he?

Now I realise I was wrong.

Paphitis also told the story of an upbringing in which his mother had to choose between electricity and food, and cited poverty as the motivator for his successful entrepreneurship.

The implication of this story in the context of the programme seemed to be that austerity, and increasing the poverty and vulnerability of the already poor and vulnerable, ain’t all bad. It is, in fact, the seedbed in which future entrepreneurs are grown.

So there you have it. The Theo Paphitis virtuous cycle. It’s entirely right to channel money to the rich and for them to use it ‘wisely’ by buying artworks, donating to ‘good causes’ (like the Tory party), stacking it up in offshore accounts, because that helps to create the VERY POVERTY and DISADVANTAGE in which the entrepreneurs of the future are born.

It’s a NECESSARY poverty and disadvantage. It’s GOOD poverty.

Syphon the nation’s wealth into the pockets of the rich; let them ‘give it away’ wisely and watch poverty and desperation grow; see the burning desire for success ignited in the hearts and homes of the poor; watch the rise of the next generation of entrepreneurs.

Simples.

Thanks for that Theo.