Thursday, 4 June 2015

Why I think Charlotte Church is Wrong to Say She Wants a 70% Tax Rate

Charlotte Church has gone on the record saying she would pay a 70% tax rate to protect public services. Lots of anti- austerity campaigners think she is wonderful and people who criticised her stance in the Guardian including myself received a fair amount of flack. I was called a word which I won't reproduce here by one poster.
So- Why do I think Charlotte's stance is wrong? 
I am not going to be cynical about her motives as some people have done. I am going to start from the position that she genuinely is prepared to do this and that she thinks it is something which could feasibly happen.
1. There is no guarantee that if rich people paid 70% tax, then more money would be spent on public services. In the last election neither of the major parties were even willing to stand on a platform of spending more on public services. Voters got a choice between a party that was going to cut a bit of public spending and a party that was going to cut a lot from public spending. They chose the party that was going to cut a lot. My guess is that if the Government got more income tax revenue they would cut either VAT or corporation tax. Or they could decide to spend more money on defence. They will only spend more on public services when it becomes a vote winning issue- not when they get more money.
2. High rates of marginal tax will damage job opportunities for people at every level in society. Why? Well this not is slightly more difficult to explain because it is not clear  exactly what Charlotte meant by a 70% tax rate. Did she mean a maximum 70% marginal rate on the top part of her earnings and if so at what point would it kick in? Or did she mean an overall tax of 70% on all her earnings with the top marginal rate somewhere in the region of 95%. 
Regardless of which she meant a high top marginal rate is going to affect her behaviour. Let's say Charlotte has made one album in a year and any additional money she makes is going to put her into the highest tax bracket and will be taxed at 70% or even higher. She has an idea for a special album and wants to get it recorded and released this year. However, more than 2/3 of the money is going to be taken away from her. She is not greedy. She has more than enough money to live on. She might be prepared to give all the money away to a charity she likes but is she going to be happy to hand it to the Government with no control over what it will be spent on? I think most people would say no to that. They might worry that it will be spent on arms, or used to offset money earned by tax dodging companies or spent on expensive dinners. So Charlotte will probably put off making the additional album and as a result lots of session musicians, graphic designers, technicians etc will lose out on work which mow won't happen. Then there will be the promotional tour that won't happen and that will be lost revenue for music venues- many of which are struggling already. Before long that extra 20% tax on Charlotte is 20% of nothing and all the money that the Inland Revenue would have got from people who worked on Charlotte's album and tour is lost too. 
3. There are lots of other things that Charlotte could do with her money that would improve people's lives and raise even more money for public services than paying additional taxes. She could start a recording company that funds unemployed young people to make their first record....or she could set up a foundation to give instruments and music tuition to children in schools on deprived areas......or she could fund audiovisual equipment for helping people with dementia. All of these things would create jobs, and the first suggestion would actually create more tax payers too, so it might actually give the treasury more money than her paying the taxes. It could also actually inspire some other rich people to be more philanthropic. Basically there are many things she could do with her money that would be more imaginative and do more good than paying extra taxes. 
4. The trouble with calling for excessively high taxes is that it involves making  claims on other people's money and a degree of coercion. Charlotte could give most of her money away at the moment. If she did so the it would inspire others to do the same. Calling for higher taxes is more likely to annoy people and lead to cynicism about whether she would actually pay them herself. 
The environmentalist Guardian writer George Monbiot is always arguing that the way to achieve better behaviour towards the environment is to pass more laws and more Government control. He does not believe that individuals can improve the environment. However, I would argue that the best forward is to persuade individuals  to change their behaviour and then the Government will follow. If people are not on board for helping the environment then they are not going to vote in a Government which is going to force them to care for the environment.
The really liberating thought for all people who care about others is that you don't have to wait for the Government to act on anything. You can start helping other people or the environment right now - either with money, or campaigning or with your labour. It doesn't require everyone else to think like you and you don't need to wait for an election. 
Ghandi said be the change you want to see in the world. He didn't say force other people to pay for the change you want to see in the world.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Charlie Hebdo, Free Speech and the Values of the East and the West




Are the values of the West better that the values of the East? If you ask a Fox News correspondent then I am pretty sure you will get a very quick reply that the west is morally superior in every way. 
Personally, I can never really understand how any comparison between the 'East' and the 'West' is meaningful. The term 'east' covers whole continents and more countries and societies with many different social and cultural groups. The west does too. A term like Muslim also covers vast numbers of people in many countries and includes some of the poorest people in the world as well as some of richest.
 A few years ago Steven Hawking said that the people of earth should be afraid if aliens ever discovering earth as there is a good chance they could be hostile. I was at a friend's house and I asked her daughter (who was about 11) whether she thought aliens would be friendly or hostile. Rather than giving me a one word answer she went into a detailed thesis about how there would probably be different factions on the alien planet and different societies. Some would be friendly towards the earth and some might not. Some might even see the earth as an ally for them against people on their own planet whom they were in conflict with. I was really impressed. This girl was able to show a degree of nuance and complexity absent from many day to day conversations which I have with intelligent adults about cultural issues in our world. She really understood that trying to make judgements about large swathes of people as though they were a homogenous group was silly, especially when we know nothing about them. This has not stopped commentators, who are atheists, speaking about how they think Muslims will feel about the cartoons or what they think their religion is about.
I know very little about Islam. My default assumption is that anyone who is a Priest, Imam, or leader of any religion is a peaceful person unless they give me evidence to the contrary. However, I would not presume to tell people that Islam, Christianity or any other religion is a religion of peace. Making such statements is presumptuous (since I do not have permission to speak for them)and also a bit patronising or condescending. I would be very irritated if I had to sit through English people on tv beaming sublimely and telling viewers how peaceful and caring Scottish people were. Any established religion has commentators much better qualified to make these statements than I or any atheist politician can. Going forward from that –even if we do have a Muslim scholar on tv, no  individual theologian is going to be able to speak for a whole faith. Even the Pope can only speak for Catholics, and even then only practicing ones. Yet in the UK we have left wing atheists on websites such as Counterfire presuming to speak for the world's Muslims.
Getting back to East v West bit. Let's suppose for a minute we actually could agree on what constituted the east and what constituted the west and that we could decide what we thought a better society would look like. Which geographical and cultural block would win?
The answer, for me anyway, is that it ought not to matter as I would want to make my own life choices wherever I lived. Not everyone can take this for granted. I am thankful that I live in a time period and a place where the answer doesn't matter. I can live my life, more or less as I want to. I can take bits of philosophy for the Greeks, some mindfulness from Buddhism, some dance music from the DJs of Istanbul, some Bollywood from India, some cool comic books from France, some Cajun food from USA etc etc. This is not about being rich, it is about being free. Free to make decisions for myself. Free to make choices. Free to choose the ideas and philosophies I want to without anyone telling me I am a non-believer, an apostate or a dissident. Free from being imprisoned or executed or executed for having ideas that run counter to the state. 
This freedom is incredibly liberating but most of us take it for granted. A number of years ago, before the Berlin Wall came down I had a taxi ride in New York. The driver had escaped from a soviet bloc country. Naively, I asked him about what he thought about the propaganda which western countries pumped out about the Soviet Union and whether he thought it was an unfair representation. He laughed asked me if I had ever heard of anyone who had tried to escape in the other direction. He had a hard life as a taxi driver, and he showed me his gun which he kept under his seat but he loved being in control of his own life and living it as he wanted to.
Some say that freedom protects the privileges of the rich and that poor people don't have freedom. This is nonsense. If poor people don't have clean water then the compassionate thing to do is help them to drill a well. You don't tell them that they shouldn't worry about water because clean water is for the rich and unless you were very punitive you wouldn't make the rich drink dirty water in the name of equality.
 The most oppressed people in the world need freedom the most. People like those detained in Guantanamo Bay with no rights and no voice or the islanders who were evicted from their homes to make way for the American Base at Diego Garcia. People in the UK whose lives are ruined by practices such as Female Genital Mutilation or forced marriage. People in other countries who are threatened with flogging or execution for blasphemy. People who are punished for being victims of rape.People in this country who are abused by gangs of men. These are the people who most need to be freed from coercion and oppression and to have their voices heard. Telling them that freedom is a luxury which protects the privileged of the rich or that free speech is a custom of individualist western cultures is wrong. It is an acceptance of their oppression. Many of the people I described are Muslims. They need people who care about their plight to speak up for them. These people need to speak truth to power. Sometimes that power is sometimes the USA or other rich countries.  Sometimes it is people of their own faith or people who claim to speak for their faith. They need UK citizens and UK authorities who are willing to recognise and call out abuse and coercion, not people who think all the evils of the world are rooted in capitalism or who are afraid to question or risk offending cultural sensitivities
Many people come to the UK to flee religious, political or cultural oppression. Some asylum seekers have been tortured because they have dared to speak up against an oppressive regime. Some have had to flee because they are gay or transgendered. These people are attracted to the UK because they believe that this country will protect them and let them live their lives the way they want to. We should welcome these people and make sure we can live up to their expectations. We need to stand up to tyranny and bullying for their sakes.
Central to all of our freedoms is freedom of speech and freedom of expression. This is what allows us all to live our lives as we want to and for many groups in society it has been hard fought and hard won. There would be no freedom to be gay, for example, if our society had not stood up to conservative Christians and repealed the laws on homosexuality. We would have no real freedom of religion if we had not repealed laws against blasphemy. We would not have any gender equality if brave women had not confronted patriarchy and the social, political and religious institutions which supported it. In the United States, women’s suffrage was opposed by Christian groups of a number of denominations  for many years. Religious conservatism has often been in opposition to progressive causes and people. For many people in the world it still is In some  places women, gay people and others face all forms of oppression including execution by hanging or stoning with these practices often being justified by religion. It is beyond me why people who would normally champion women’s rights are now apologists for religious fundamentalist terrorists  who would trample the rights of women given half a chance.
One would think that nobody in this country would doubt  the value of freedom of speech and that people would not flinch from defending against bullies and terrorists. Sadly, in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo killings this has not been the case. A number of commentators of the UK left including Will Self have questioned the centrality of free speech to our society. I have seen words such as 'provocation' used to describe the actions of satirists as though ridiculing an idea or a belief is a legitimate reason for murder. Would the same people have thought that the parodies in Spitting Image were justification for Mrs Thatcher sending in the SAS to the tv studios to shoot the production team? 
I have also have seen terms such as 'free speech absolutists' and 'free speech fetishists' used to describe people who value the exchange of ideas. This is shameful. Ridiculing religion or religious ideas is not racism any more than it is racism to parody a political idea or movement.Charlie Hebdoe operates within French laws, which are similar to ours. Thinking that religious followers cannot cope with challenges to their beliefs, or shouldn't be expected to do is patronising. Many Christians though the film The Life of Brian was disrespectful and hateful towards Christianity and in Glasgow they gave it an 18 rating. But nobody said it had to be banned and nobody was murdered for producing it or acting in it. 
Nick Clegg http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/jan/13/nick-clegg-snoopers-charter-intelligence-surveillance  showed a rare moment of courage and backbone this week when he spoke up for free speech as a right without any qualifications, buts or apologies. In a short statement he showed that he really understood what free speech means. While others have condemned the terrorists, few in the UK have said much about free speech and why it is absolutely central to a diverse and multi- cultural society. Debate and the sharing and challenging of ideas is what helps us to understand each other. It allows people to express their culture or distance themselves from it, or find and adopt new ideas. It is not something you can be fundamentalist about - it is either something you have or something what he you don't have.
The Charlie Hebdo events have not tarnished my views of Muslims or Islam. My default position is still that religious people are trying to make the world better even though I don't personally desire what they have to offer. In fact, the two real heroes of the Charlie Hebdo situation were both Muslims. One was Ahmed Merabet, the Muslim police officer shot dead in Paris. The other was Lassana Bathily  who saved lives by hiding customers in the shop's cold room, while the hostage taker walked into the kosher supermarket in Vincennes. Please sign the petition in Change.org to have him given the Legion of Honour : https://www.change.org/p/give-french-citizenship-and-legion-of-honor-to-lassanabathily?recruiter=66500828&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=share_twitter_responsive
I haven't changed my view that multi-culturalism is good thing either. However, we should not reintroduce blasphemy laws, either by design or default. We certainly can't allow restrictions in free speech to be defined and policed by terrorists.
 Having said all that however, my view of some elements of the British left and the British intelligencia is severely damaged. They have abandoned the principles which are required for everything else they claim to stand for. The left has lost its moral compass in its failure to stand uo to terrorist bullies.
If you have freedom to choose your own values, have your own thoughts and express your own ideas then nobody needs to guarantee you any other freedoms. They all flow from these basic central freedoms. Most importantly if you don't have free speech and free expression the you can never truly have any other freedom.
And if you have any comments please make them here especially of you found this article interesting and please share it on social media. We only have so long on this planet. Use it wisely by standing up for values that are worth standing up for.
Je suis Charlie!
 Je suis Ahmed!
Je suis Lassantha!
Vive la liberte!

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Generation Right is Actually Generation South of the Political Equator : Politics for the Next Generation

Radio 4 broadcast a very insightful documentary on 16th June 2014 called Generation Right which took the view that young people today have become very right wing and (as was suggested by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown) very selfish.
I felt that the programme did very well in describing how young people felt about a number of issues including the welfare state. However, it did less well in describing the new political orientation.
It stated that young people had become right wing about economic issues but paradoxically, very left wing about social issues. They were extremely liberal about rights of gay people and relaxed about immigration but at the same time holding more traditional views about economics and welfare. The fact that this is seen as paradoxical is illustrative of the limitations in British political discourse and the fact that our existing main political parties are laden down with traditions which make it difficult for them to respond to changes in attitudes. That is why there is seemingly apathy about young people in elections. They feel that none of the main political phiosoiphies really connect with them and they want to do, in the words of one of the young people in the programme, is mix and match different viewpoints on different issues. The sort of Parliamentary democracy which we have now is simply not flexible enough to allow young peoople to express their views on important issues and the political parties are past their sell by date. Young people who are used to structuring their own relationship with media and social networks find this form of politics to be leaden and impenetrable. 
Part of the inadequacy of our political discourse is shown by the fact that the programme tried to place the young people onto left or right dimension of the political spectrum. If you go to the website Political Compass you will find that politics can be more accurately charted on two dimensions. One dimension is the right  v left positions. The other dimension is authoritarian v libertarian. It is possible to be libertarian and at the the same time be either left wing oir right wing. Libertarianism is often characterized by very liberal social views and free market views on economics. The constant is a belief in free choice and being against state coercion- either of individuals or other societies or countries. One recent historical event, not discussed in the programme which may have swung the pendulum towards a more libertarian position was the Iraq war. This war was a very clear defeat for the idea that the state is all powerful and always able to improve people's lives using its strength. Not even the full might of the U.S. and U.K. military forces have been able to reshape a whole country and bring a new peace and democracy. In fact, state intervention in Iraq has, in many people's opinion made things markedly worse for these people.  It is a very strong indication that state meddling does not nhecessarliy make things better and it is also a significant blow toi the moral authority of Governments.
Traditionally in the U.K. our political parties on the right and left have been authoritarian in nature. They have tried to shape the country through cultural mechanisms such as the BBC (which was about culturally enriching the nation), subsequently through lots of regulation and health and safety legislation, and more recently through Nudge (which is a sort of psychological form of soft coercion). The idea that individuals and communities can make up their own minds and make good choices themselves has never really taken hold with our politicians.
The young people of today, however, are shaping their own social and cultural worlds through the internet and new technologoes. Ideas can take shape and take hold quickly and spontaneously. Young peoople want freedom to make decisions about how they see things through their own individual cultural and social lens. They make common cause with one group or issue at one moment and with other people and issues at other times. This is not necessarily driven by a traditional political perspectyive or a coherent phiulosophy. In an age of remixing and sampling- Why should it be?
The lessons from these changes for U.K. politics are in my opinioin quite profound.
Firstly young people are much more libertarian. Rather than just seeing this is negative or a rejection of collectivism- politicians on the liberal spectrum should be celebrating the fact that they have very liberal and tolerant views on minorities and support the rights of different groups in societies to live their lives the way they want. In terms of promoting the need to help people who are economically disadvantaged - this might be better sold to young people on the basis of helping everyone in society to make a contribution rather than the traditional view of this as welfare.
 Young people are not becoming Conservatives. Conservatism is associated with old fashioned values which they do not relate to.This means that people on the left who are concerned about social issues may be better off appealing to a bleeding heart libertarianism rather than a traditional left wing perspective. For those on the political right, they are only going to get young votes by advocating for a less controlling and judgmental society and developing more liberal policies in issues such as legislation of recreational drugs.
What all this means for right and left is that it means listening to young people first and foremost rather than castigating them or labeling them as selfish.
It means offering new political perspectives which incorporate a more libertaian outlook -and no that does not equate to selfishness- whatever John Monboit thinks. It also means a more pragmatic and atheoretical politics.
It also means we need to rethink how our democratic processes work. Young people are dissatisfied with having to just elect one party into Government for 5 years. It requires us to give citizens a chance to involve themselves in decisions about how the country is run on a more regular basis. This ought to be possible with the fantastic technology which we now have. The internet offers us the chance to collect the views and opinions of the whole wired community almost instantaneously. There is no excuse for Government not being connected to the public.   In the days of instant messaging, young people are probably not prepared to wait 5 years to influence Government policy.
We need real change in how politics work and also in the menu of political choices offered to yoiun g people if we are going to engage them in politics again.
First stage is going to be listening to them in a non-judgemental way. The Radio 4 Programme was a good start.
   

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Labour Must Fight Racism to Win the Election, not Appease Racists

I'm not a politician but I reckon I'm right about one thing. If you want to win a political fight the only way you can do this is to set the agenda rather than react to it. I also feel very strongly that you can't  defeat bad attitudes by playing along with them. 
Ed Balls apparently thinks differently. He thinks that to fight the UKIP menace Labour needs to start addressing peoples fears about immigration. This is in line with a wider message we seem to be getting fed by the media that says that the major political parties do not understand or engage with people's 'legitimate' fears about immigration. Personally I think the Balls strategy is all wrong and that the general media are feeding the anti-EU and anti-immigration frenzy which is being whipped up by UKIP, BNP and all the other xenophobic parties which appeared on the recent ballot.
If Labour want to win at the polls they need to have the courage to believe in something positive  and have faith that the public  will respond to good political debate and rhetoric. Labour need to stand for something different if they want to inspire the public to vote for them. They need to stop colluding with he idea that it is poor people from other countries who are causing them misery. They need to tell the public the truth about the financial crisis and  the dangers of unrestrained financial markets. They need to tell the truth about how good public services cost money rather than trying to flog more PFIs and the like.
Labour needs to sell itself as a party with a vision of something better- not Tory-lite or UKIP-lite but something much better that can give ordinary people hope.
There's still a year to turn this around.  

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Is It Wrong to Profit From Human Misery?

Is wrong to profit from human misery?

Over the last week or so there has been a huge amount of comments (I don't think it deserves to be called a debate) in The Guardian, community Care etc about the issue of outsourcing child protection and other child care services. The Government issued a consultation asking people what they thought about local authorities being able to outsource these services. Immediately a large number of people waded into the debate firing off comments about it being appalling that child protection was going to be hived off to Serco even though there was nothing in the consultation document to suggest that this was likely to happen. What was worse however, was the vitriolic stream of comments which emerged in the Guardian about the private sector and by implication anyone who is the social care business. One person who wrote a brief article in defence of outsourcing in Guardian Society was described as 'evil' by a commentator.
At this stage I want to make my personal views about privatisation known. I think that public sector bodies, while being far from perfect, usually offer coherent and consistent well managed services on areas like child protection. I think for a service like child protection, it is likely that any process of outsourcing is likely to lead to fragmentation and while there might be some examples of improved practice there will also be poorer practice and that is concerning in such a sensitive area. HOWEVER, I think it could in some cases offer professionals to form private practices who could work in innovative and fulfilling ways for those workers and these practices could be a beacon for the sector.
I have made a lot of comments on different places which probably would lead to people thinking I am a lot more in favour of outsourcing than I am but this is due to my natural tendency to want to give an airing to the side of the debate which nobody else seems to be willing to give a hearing to. I think it's also because I am appalled by the level of prejudice and vitriol being pumped out by people who claim to caring and morally superior to the Tories. From where I am standing some of them are like the left wing equivalent of Fox News viewers.
I want therefore to look at a few myths about outsourcing.

Myth 1. The private sector is social care is made up of rich money grabbing fat cats.
Actually the majority of providers on social care are people of,very modest means, some of who, are scraping together a pretty marginal existence. One of reasons that unemployment has not gone up significantly as a result of austerity is the huge rise on self employment. Many of these self employed are freelancers and consultants who are doing bits of training and consultancy work for local authorities following being made redundant. In fact at least one local authority which I know if encouraged all their day care workers who they were making redundant to set themselves up in business as providers. How there was going to be work for all of them when they couldn't continue as employees I don't know. I doubt of many of them are going to be joining the Fortune 500 anytime soon.
Another type of business in social care is the small family run care home. I delay with a number of such businesses over the years. One was a four bedded unit for teenagers with behavioural problems which looked like an ordinary family home. The owner worked in it together with his partner. Both had a really strong commitment to working with disturbed young people despite the fact that the woman of the couple had developed tinnitus following an assault by a young person. The male owner had invested an inheritance from his parents in this business. He could have put it into property but he developed this and some other social care services with the money. He made an honest profit and a reasonable livelyhood by offering a standard and style of care which wasn't available anywhere else in the area.
When I hear people describe people like that couple as profiteers it makes my blood  boil.
There are some profiteers in social care like the carpetbaggers behind the Southern Cross Scandal but they are very much the exception. There are not many big providers in social care. Many of the home care businesses in some areas are very small operations, sometimes run by former home helps who want to improve their standard of living and be entrepreneurial on a small scale.

Myth 2 Earning money from child care is moral when it's called a wage and immoral when it's called profit.
Okay so - is that always true? What if the wage is 150k and the profit is 0.5% which one is moral then?
Basically if you study to be a Doctor or Social Worker you expect a return on the investment of your your time and commitment on the form of an income. This is called a wage. If you take a risk and go into business for yourself then you will need to make a surplus. Out of this surplus you will have to pay interest to any bank or a dividend to anyone who lent you money to set up the business. Since investors are taking a risk and could potentially lose some or all of their money they will expect a bigger return that they would get from a bank account. After all that there might be some money left over for you to take put a wage.  This is of course provided you actually do make money and don't end up going bust. If you rely on the council to send you referrals and they don't send you any for a few months then nobody is going to bail you out. The surplus which a business makes is called a profit.
There are few differences between people who make wages and people who make profits. People who make wages get a funded pension, sick pay, holiday pay, maternity pay. People who work freelance or run their own business get none of these things. If they are too sick to work they get nothing. If business conditions deteriorate they could lose their home and everything they own. It sometimes amazes me why anybody actually does it.
So- Do you still think wages are moral and profits are immoral.

Myth 3 It is wrong to profit from human misery.
This is the suggestion that certain forms of activity such as protecting vulnerable children should never be a source of profit. This idea, strongly put forward in the Guardian suggests by implication that it might actually be more moral to earn money from something like cigarettes than work which improves people's lives.
I think Martin Narey nailed it on the head today. He said that he makes lots of money from human misery- It's called a wage ( see Myth 2 above).

Myth 4. It is the greed of capitalism which leads to poor wages in outsourced services.
This is untrue. Local authorities could in theory specify that the workers in outsourced businesses get paid a decent wage. Fair trade Coffee is an example of capitalism being used to improve workers conditions by making workers pay a marketable commodity for customers to sponsor. Home care contracts often specify such low rates that it would be impossible for the business to pay decent wages. Outsourcing is used as a politically expedient way of lowering pay. Local authorities could not get away with lowering wages for their own employees but by outsourcing the work they can also outsource the notoriety associated with poor pay and conditions. It is not true that private companies are making large profits by ripping off workers in outsourced contracts. Hourly rates and margins are cut to the bone.
This is not of course the fault of local authorities- they are experiencing austerity. However, it is not a direct consequence of capitalism either.

Myth 5. Social work practices will never be better than working for the council and they will never get off the ground.
Well whether this turns out to be myth or not will depend on the attitude of social workers and whether they seize the opportunities of being able to control their own destinies. Much is made in the literature of how social workers are suffering under managerialism, poor supervision, inadequate IT facilities etc. by taking charge of their own practices there is huge scope for change. More flexible working, less hierarchical management, a culture which is less driven by fear and defensive practice, better relationships with local communities which social workers serve, better use of media to publicise good practice, opportunities to put local residents and young people on steering committees to direct how the service is provided. Really the list of what could be achieved is only as limited as out imagination.

Myth 6. Change can happen easily and quickly.
As a social work academic I feel its my job to prepare students for change and prepare them for a long career which could take many forms over the next few years. It's not just to prepare them just for the job as it is now. However, the sector as a whole has been long used to thinking in terms only of a career in local government. It will be a challenge for social work academic its over the next few years to prepare their students for the challenges of working in different types of agencies from before.
Government too must offer help and support if existing social workers are to take advantage of new opportunities. There is also a role for employers with the help of Universities to prepare workers for change- if that is what is wanted.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Failed Porn filters? Not Really - It's all Going to Plan for Cameron

There has been a lot of frenzied Internet activity over past few days about the Newsnight story about porn filters failing to block porn sites while blocking sex education and information sites. This is seen as a failure. The solution, according to Women's Aid and some other posters in Twitter is better, more sophisticated filters. This is of course impossible. Getting a group of humans to distinguish between something that is tawdry and something that has artistic merit is hard enough. Expecting a computer program to understand these distinctions is so much beyond current technology that when it does happen we will have to consider whether we need to give human rights to computers. It will be the age of manga style cyborgs when that can happen.
My view is that Cameron predicted that the filters would fail. This is actually helpful to his current agenda of redesigning the Internet so that it is regulated and controlled by big media companies. Remember the days when you needed a lot of money to get something typeset, printed and distributed ? Or how, of you wanted to get something released on video you would have to pay hundreds or thousands of pounds to get it certificated by the BBFC- costs out with the capabilities of most people.
Now of course anyone, including me writing this blog can get my work put not the Internet for the cost of a few amps of electricity.
BUT NOT FOR LONG!
Cameron wants the interent to operate like the high street with the public protected from anything that might be unsuitable for them. The BBFC ( an organisation that is finding its purpose coming to an end and which needs a new role) and ATVOD ( a highly funded body that has only received about 6 complaints from the public in 3 years and is a pointless parasite on Internet TV) are both vying to become the regulator of the Internet. Cameron has repeatedly said of porn 'If you can't get it in the high street you shouldn't get it on the Internet'. He wants to apply this maxim to the whole of the Internet. He wants unregulated news sources and commentary stamped out and an Internet in which most citizens only get what comes via Murdoch and company.
I've been blogging on Internet censorship for the past 6 months and everything I have said has turned out to be correct so this is my prediction for 2014- a Cameron controlled Internet.
Fight it now or repent at leisure.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Post Script to C-Section Story

Essex Council have today issued an explanation of the facts behind the c- section story which has hit the worlds press. It gives a good account of the council/social work involvement in this case.
In any case there is nothing in the Council's account which gives me cause for concern ( though others may disagree).
However, I never really believed that the Council had acted in bad faith. My beef has always been that the Council did not think it owed the public an explanation for its actions.
Many social work bloggers and tweeters had come to the defence of the council saying that it could not say anything to the media for fear of breaching confidentiality or going against some legal restrictions.
I was never very convinced by these arguments or convinced that the Councils policy of not speaking about ongoing cases was a good one.
In fact today's statement has vindicated my position because the council has now broken its (unwritten?) policy of not commenting and it is at least now trying to undo some of the bad publicity which it should accept some responsibility for. It's clear from the council's new response that they have written it because there has been unprecedented international interest in the case- not because they think involving the public in their decisions in an ongoing basis is a good thing of itself.
Over the years I have met a few journalists. I think they are basically people with a job to do like the rest of us and if they are given a convincing argument or interesting information that the public will want to know - then they will print it.
I have never been convinced by the argument that the press has it in for social work. If I was a journalist and one side of a story would not speak to me or address legitimate public concerns then I would not give them a very sympathetic write up either. When you see 'no comment' from a public body it gives a message that public opinion does not matter to the agency. In the current world of 24 hour news, bloggers, and greater interaction between public bodies and the public they serve, the secrecy which is associated with much social work practice is outdated as well as undemocratic.
Let's hope that the latest statement by Essex is start of a new openness and social work starting to take control of how it is reported rather than just reacting. Essex has now shown that you CAN comment on live cases ethically- and it is the best way to protect the profession, protect the reputation of local authorities and their social workers and most importantly reassure the public that they live in a free country where professionals cannot override civil liberties without exceptionally good processes, reasons, and accountability.