Costa Del Soulless
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