When I posted something earlier about the anonymous UK social worker blogger Winston Smith, several of you thought his blog sounded like a sham. Well, here’s a report in The Guardian about him and his work. Excerpt:
What inspired you to blog?
What I consider the abject neglect of a lot of the teenagers I’ve come across. On a material level, they are well looked after, but in terms of giving them guidance and inculcating them with values and life-skills, I saw very little of that in care homes I worked in. I now work in supported housing, and what inspired me to write was how the state disempowers young people. As a supported housing worker, you are a personal assistant, filling in their benefit forms, making sure they pay their rent, taking on all the responsibility. And when they leave they’re not able to cope. Also, the way antisocial behaviour isn’t effectively dealt with prompted me to start writing. It’s the teenagers and young adults who are well behaved who suffer; they have to live cheek-by-jowl with people who are infringing on their rights. But all the focus goes on supporting those who behave badly, rather than protecting the rights of the well-behaved. I think people need to know about this stuff. They are paying it.
You don’t seem to think much of your colleagues, either.
From the perspective of Ofsted or the management, these people are brilliant because they are great at filling in forms, using the correct language, and they take tons of physical and verbal abuse without kicking up a storm about it. Many of the frontline staff are more interested in being friends with the kids than being effective role models. Once, I got a phone call from an agency saying a care home required someone “funky” who young people could relate to – so I’ve got to come down to their level.
Who do you blame for badly-behaved young people?
Parents and society. In the past, there were spheres of influence that would ensure most people were effectively socialised. If you came from a dysfunctional background and you tried to act out in public, your uncle up the road would give you a clout, a local policeman give you a talking to, or you’d be disciplined at school. Your behaviour wouldn’t be tolerated. Rampant individualism and a rights culture have broken down these social networks and eroded effective authority.
In his most recent entry, Winston Smith talks about the fate of an armchair in a state supported housing facility, as an example of moral decadence among both the clients of the state and their bureaucratic enablers. The facility where he worked was getting rid of a ratty old armchair, replacing it with a new, donated one. But the bureaucrats followed a policy of asking the recipients of state charity for their input … and three objected to sending off the broken-down armchair so abruptly. So they had a meeting about it. Excerpt:
Nigel, 23, was the first to speak out about the removal of the chair in which he had up to that point whittled away several years of his life without anyone trying to help him in case he felt judged.
“I don’t think we should get rid of this chair just straight away. People have spent many days sat in this chair and it has been a part of their lives. It’s been here since the centre opened and we shouldn’t just get rid of it overnight. We need time to get used to the idea.”
The only other two service users that turned up, Darren and Patsy nodded in support of Nigel’s inability to wean himself off a diseased ridden chair.
Lorraine asked what Nigel thought should have been done.
“Well, I mean we do need a new armchair and that’s great, but like I said we need to say goodbye to the one we have had for so long. I suggest we put up several memos around the building informing the other clients the final date that the chair will be here. Then I think we should get to burn it and have a few drinks around it and say goodbye.”
Lorraine met them most of the way but not all.
“I understand that many of you may feel attached to the chair so we will circulate a memo and put up signs informing the others of the final day of the armchair. However, we can’t give you the chair to burn as it will have to be dumped appropriately so that we don’t contravene any health and safety laws by allowing it to be burned in a public place.”
Although Lorraine imposed some kind of conditions on the service users’ ludicrous request she still indulged them in the most part.
Unbelievable. But all too believable. Prepare now for some liberal readers to get angry over the idea that anybody could possibly judge the behavior of these underclass slobs. This blog also has libertarian-minded readers who get angry over judgment passed over the morals of the wealthy, on the theory that how they spend their money is their own business, and immune from the judgment of others. What’s interesting is how both sets of people have a class of humanity that they declare off-limits for moral judgment, for ideological reasons. But look, we’re all human beings, and it is dehumanizing to decline to hold us morally responsible for our actions. If you want to see the fruit of a policy treating the poor with a sort of liberal paternalism, refusing to pass judgment on their choices and thereby hold them accountable, read Winston Smith’s blog. It is a denial of basic human dignity. Besides, as Smith says, the people who really suffer from this are the deserving, hard-working poor condemned by their economic circumstances to live among these louts, and whose interests the state ought to defend first and foremost.