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Costa Del Soulless

September 21, 2013

This is not a Committee Room 5 story. This is real life.

The first post I wrote for this blog back in April 2012 – “It’s Not What It Says On The Tin” – was about the ever increasing use in the social care world of a language that presents something as a positive development for the service user, whilst concealing a murky agenda that is far from positive. I’ve returned to the theme many times since but this week, something came along that outmurks everything in terms of downright manipulation of the people they are meant to be serving. It is shameful and deeply depressing.

A couple of years ago, my local authority took the decision to close all its day centres for the learning disabled. In their place would be some hubs. This was presented as an extremely positive move because it would “increase service user independence”. A hardy group of parent/carers challenged the day centre closures through the courts, who ruled that the consultation process was flawed and had to be opened up again. Needless to say, the consultation opened and closed again, making no difference whatsoever – the council’s original plans were merely delayed. The day centres closed and the people started to “access” the hubs, which included, the old post office and the local swimming baths. Valuable relationships were lost and as many people found, activities that they used to do at the day centres were no longer available at the hubs. (You can’t prepare a lasagne at the swimming pool). At the same time, the council outsourced its “outreach services” to a private company, which in fairness, most people reckon has been pretty successful in supporting the service users.

This week though, there have been some new developments. The contract for the outreach service has been up for renewal and the council has invited tenders. Nobody seems to have seen the specification for the tender but it appears it included the requirement that there will be “no building based services in the future”. This came as a complete shock to the users of the services, their carers and at least one councillor. No building based services not only means no day centres but no hubs as well! Cranking up the fog machine, thew council announced that they “remain committed to providing a drop in service”. As one parent then put it: “How can you drop in to a building that isn’t there?”. Eventually the cat emerged from the bag and it was revealed that the expectation is that people will “drop in at a coffee shop and access the community from that base”. Another on the ball carer summed it up with: “Costas is not a service”.

At this point, do you think one of the council staff stood up and said: “We’re really sorry folks. You’ve been royally shafted. This is all about cutbacks. The money just isn’t there to run the service as you’d like”.

No, of course not. Quite the contrary. The people were told the “service is being made available to develop and practice social skills”. It doesn’t end there. “The new service looks at the outcomes achieved – what difference the service is making to an individual”.

Right – let’s not beat around the bush. This is not a service provided by the social care department. To claim that it is, is shameful. If people want to go to Costa, they can go to Costa – they don’t need the council to provide that “service”. There is nothing in this new deal that comes anywhere close to “providing a service”.

And what is with the nonsense of “outcomes achieved”? The only outcome is that someone will sit in a coffee shop for hours at a time, spend money they probably haven’t got on their coffee and refreshments for their support workers, and then “access” the shopping precinct where they will window shop until it’s time to go home. It’s not about valuable outcomes – it’s about killing time. And killing life.

It’s a tragedy that the people who used first the day centres, and then the hubs, have now been reduced to this. In less than a year, their lives have shrunk to sitting in a coffee shop five days a week (I’m not convinced that Costas or Starbucks will tolerate groups of people sitting around for hours on end. I was challenged by the manager the other week for finishing my crossword after I’d drank my coffee). It goes without saying that the professionals haven’t shrunk at all – now they have grown. There will probably be a “Category Manager for Services Outcomes” and a whole team of people to monitor the outcomes. And the new company that won the outreach contract will be in the money – but what will they actually have to do.

This has to stop. We cannot keep colluding with these lies. I hope the people affected by this, claim their personal budgets and go to Costas if they want to but not as part of the “outreach service” – no, they go of their own free, independent will.
We have to maintain our self respect and dignity and refuse to engage with such contemptuous manipulation.


From → Social Care

  1. Mirarah2 permalink

    And that’s exactly what they’ve done….’ “remain committed to providing a drop in service”. It’s dropped off so much, that there’s no service at all. I am absolutely disgusted with the way LA’s treat those of us with disabilities. I know they are all struggling with massive cuts, but how come it’s always the ones who are least able to fight back that get attacked first? ( Huh! I’ve just answered my own question!)
    Has anyone actually asked Costa’s – or similar establishments – whether they wish to become involved in this sort of project? And how are the ‘clients’ – how I HATE that word but can’t find another one – to be protected from a non-understanding and non-accepting general public? Talk about adding fuel to the hate-crime fires.
    To my mind this is all part of the ‘sweep it all under the carpet and hope that nobody notices’ culture being fostered by governments of every political hue.
    OK – rant over. Just hope that someone, somewhere, with sufficient clout can show the way to force LA’s to behave properly.

  2. Weary Mother permalink

    I wrote a fullsome reply but stopped and deleted it, so afraid/terrified am I of repercussions.

    • Repercussions from whom Weary Mother?

      • Weary Mother permalink


        His LA. Like many parents, of adults with learning disability, I am past my three score and ten. My son is far on in middle age. I identify with everything you wrote on ‘hubs’, and more. We parents have held back the dam and fought like you using the law, in our case on and off for years, as best we can. No LA counts cost’s in terms of broken marriages, and for siblings who lost their childhoods in the struggle where we parents are forced to concentrate all to just to keep our disabled son or daughter safe, never mind happy and healthy. These LA’s have no clue or do not care about who in reality pays the bottom line. We had and have all the joys from our son that you describe and still have the despairs and disrespects/damage. Like you we have learned so much from him and from being part of our disabled community. He is a wonderful man; he makes me laugh till I weep with his intelligent, wise well observed dry wit. I love him and am immensely proud of him. But Organisations like Hillingdon and mys son’s LA have very long memories, for it is all in the file, and their cultures are very resilient? Who will protect our sons and daughters when we have gone. I am no pussy cat and I don’t scare easily……and I am really scared of what will happen if I don’t keep fighting….or am no longer here.

      • That is my biggest fear too. In fact, I find the thought so horrible, I have to force myself not to ponder it for too long. I know that despite all the plans I put in place, whatever Steven says he wants from his life, that if I drop dead tomorrow, Hillingdon will be moving him to the hospital in Wales before the day is out. It won’t matter what the court have decided. It won’t matter if he has his own tenancy. It wont matter if he is back in his own home by then. It wont matter what I include in my will. I guess that is what drives me to give Steven the best quality of life he can have whilst Im still around. I know that once I’m gone, his quality of life is going to be pretty poor

      • Weary Mother permalink

        Some two years ago I challenged (am still challenging and have managed to hold off/postpone) the reduction in hours, for my ‘independent living’, physically disabled, partially sighted son who also has Downs to three hours, in total and no day care, weekly. There is still no support for health care and other crises, (and there have been many). I have done/do it all. When I first challenged the reduction ‘they’ took another hour off! Reduced it to two hours weekly!
        When I asked the care manager how she could agree with this, she said ‘I am only doing my job’. I reminded her that I have heard that somewhere before, and 6 million people died.

  3. Sally permalink

    Even in the land of LD services, that is loathsome. Am I missing something? It seems that everything will be closed-there really will be nowhere to go-but the learning disabled are given gracious permission to go to a cafe which is open to them in any case. Its like saying:”we are shutting down the hotel-but your sleeping needs can be accessed on the local park bench”
    I have no intention of my son sitting out his life in a coffee shop, learning nothing, doing nothing, friendless, and still less that some weasel from the council claims his lonely end empty life in a public coffee shop as a service being provided. You’re right-how much better for them to say-we’re closing everything we can shut down. Good luck finding somewhere to sit out your lives.”
    How to fight back?

  4. I’m not sure what to say, Mark, but just wanted to say something.
    Great post – full of well channelled anger and emotion.
    It seems to add to my sense that we are rushing, hopefully not “headlong”, into some Orwellian nightmare…..but everybody [excluding you & like-minders] seems to think it’s progress, etc. We certainly don’t stand up and shout…….and I am, embarrassingly, guilty of such inaction.
    Keep standing up, Mark.

  5. duncfmac permalink

    Weary Mother and Mark, totally feel the same about what will happen if/ when i’m not here and my son is only 7! Really bad that this is how authority makes us parents feel. Have already parted company with L.A. over education provision but it is the long term well being of my son that concerns me most. I am his voice and advocate and see it as my main role in life. Unfortunately when you speak in your loved ones best interests it is almost always at odds with the resource providers.

    • Weary Mother permalink

      In an earlier post some one asked ‘what is happening to those with no one?. In our LA most have lost day care and had their support radically reduced or removed. Not all LA’s are like this. Some still struggle hard to safeguard their vulnerable people.

      A rep from the ‘sight impaired’ service in our LA contacted me about my son, When I replied that he still had some day care (hanging on by his teeth and a solicitor!) this man said ‘I thought they had cleared THEM !! all out two years ago’!! How callous and it is an illustration of the LA’s culture.!
      Most of my son’s peers have Down’s and are in their late 40’s. Where are they now, what do they do all day, for no other services have been, as yet, set up. Though I have heard that ‘hubs’ are on the horizon.

  6. sparrow permalink

    Same as the others – don’t want to think what’ll happen when I’m gone. Worry about the present and go year by year with his annual review to try to secure the same level of care he’s got at present, which is very good! Worry about the attack on benefits, local government budgets etc. Feel those who generally speaking can’t fight back are seen as 2nd class citizens, an easy target.

  7. Emily permalink

    What is wrong with the world. :((((

  8. Sally permalink

    Would Newsnight be interested in this-its an interviewer’s dream, asking the Head of Hilingdon to explain what a non building based service is, or how the Learning Disabled are actually better served by not having anywhere to go. I can hear Paxman now: “What is a hub?”
    I had a horrible thought-to you or I the thought of our adult LD sons/daughters wandering around with no safe place to go, is a vision of fear, loneliness, vulnerability. For the council its proof that slashing services works. The person is alone -how much more independent can you get ?

    • Weary Mother permalink

      Alone, ill, dirty and smelly. And avoided. In other words……………….reabled!

  9. Sally permalink

    By far the most revolting get- out expression in use, in my opinion is the phrase “remains committed to.”.. (“remains committed to providing a drop in service.”)
    It is used time and again to obscure what is actually happening . Whn confronted,the corrupt car dealer is “committed to providing a fair service.” the terrible hospital is “committed to the highest standards”….Harold Shipman, had he spoken in court could well have said he was committed to his patients living a long time! Its a meaningless as mission statements, but the phrase is presented as an answer..
    There are practical questions which the service should be able to answer:examples:Where are the people who used a day centre? Where can they go? How does the drop in with no building compare for them in terms of time, facilities, quality of life? How are the outcomes measured? Has the suggested coffee shop been consulted about this? if the outcomes show things are worse for the people, there any plans to reassess the decision to not have a designated building? If not why insult us by gathering data at all?
    I think we could all begin by howling down any rep using the “being committed to” justifcation. If we are behind on our phone bills, the phone company doesn’t want to hear we are “committed to a debt free existence”. they want to now what is going to happen to address the problem- pronto.

    • Weary Mother permalink


      Over the past three years my son has had three ‘reviews’ of his ‘needs’. The first two were hideous.
      The most recent care manager is/was both human and very professional, was a shock. Over the years of social ‘care’ my son has contributed less and less in reviews. He has serious speech impediment and most people do not give him time to find his words. The first two reviewers were contracted locum’s, and both were cold and expedient. ”Just doing their job”. At the end of the first hideous review my son was asked about day care and whether he had ‘friends’. My son with passion and sadness in his voice said (with feeling) his first words in this review; with clarity and passion and a very rare anger,, ‘all gone, all gone, all gone,all gone’. ‘They’, his friends of nearly 30 years were all gone, out out of day care, out there …somewhere?

      At the recent and much more honest review (hopefully/we don’t know the outcome) the topic again was of his peers, I asked my son what kind of home care (……….).gets; this man is 79,well known in the village, spent most of his his life in a notoriously bad institution. He is frail, vulnerable, learning disabled and has little/no intelligible speech. This time my son pulled himself up as far as his physical disability allowed, and said with the same passion and feeling, ”no home care, no home care, gets nothing home care”..

      Another cost that does not show on the phony balance sheet. The grief and concern of friends/peers watching and fearing. In Committee room five I can hear the surprise when told that people with learning disability have strong loyalties and feelings to their friends, while they wait in limbo for the axe to fall on themselves.

  10. Nick permalink

    I’m normally a very angry, hateful individual. I despise government waste and find the 65% of my salary taken as tax offensive. I don’t like the idea of welfare one bit.

    I resent that money is given to wasters to build houses they don’t need while better people – those in real need such as yourselves are denied it.

    As for ‘there’s no money’ there is. There’s plenty. Look up Hillingdon’s salaries from the TPA town hall rich list. It is enough to make you vomit. Money taken by force, under threat is wasted on paying utter scum six figure salaries whereupon they claim monstrous expenses and a putrid pension. These people should be flogged, and their every asset confiscated and returned to those who tax is paid to provide for.

    I apologise. You don’t need my anger pouring through to you. We must change this country to do the right thing and make it work properly for the right reasons and that means demolishing the state machine and all it’s hateful, soul destroying cogs.

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