Thursday, 23 February 2017

'Don't judge - We're no different from you' - powerful message from care experienced young people

Nothing beats getting the story direct from those who have lived it. And that’s what we got in a moving and revealing presentation from a group of care experienced young people at the Scottish Parliament today as they launched their “Don't Judge - We're no different from you” campaign.

The campaign booklet and DVD was produced by Aberdeenshire’s Young People’s Organising and Campaigning (YPOC) Group of young people working alongside the council’s children’s rights staff. It follows a previous campaign on corporate parenting.

With the young people writing the scenarios and taking on all the main roles, the DVD forms part of a guide for staff on supporting looked after children in schools.

Managing cuts or fighting for local services?

First published in the Morning Star on 21/2/17:
It’s budget season for Scotland’s local authorities, the time when councils tell us how good they are at managing cuts — or not as the case may be.

In the real world, jobs have gone in their thousands with remaining workers facing overwhelming workloads.

They are insulted by the government and media spin that cuts are “transformation,” closures are “estate rationalisation” and redundancies are “workforce planning.”

It has been encouraging to see more councillors challenge the cuts this year.

One quote from North Ayrshire’s Labour council leader Joe Cullinane that resonated with what unions are calling for was: “I will not simply manage austerity cuts.”

But we still have many who see the job as managing cuts rather than defending services. That has only served to disguise the real effects of punitive central government settlements.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

People's Assembly Scotland: Unite to defend local services

Speech seconding Tom Morrison's motion at the People's Assembly Scotland conference 17 September 2016. Motion below...

With the last of the Edinburgh Labour councillors who won power in 1984 about to stand down, I’m reminded of their slogan at the time proudly painted on the side of council vehicles: “Improving Services, Creating Jobs”. That seems like a hundred years ago now.

Tens of thousands of jobs have been cut in Scottish local government. We have not lost a vast army of bureaucrats, we have lost people.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Social work on the brink

This first appeared in the Morning Star on 15/3/16: My name is John and I’m a social worker. There I’ve said it. After all it is World Social Work Day (15 March).

It used to be that when you were asked about your job, you would say ‘I work for the council’. It’s perhaps a reaction to the false media portrayal of council staff as a pile of lazy pen-pushers that more colleagues are now proudly confessing their social work identity.

That’s the problem when you are trying to defend local services. People don’t always know the range of essential services councils provide. When they actually need one of those services, they find resources are cut to the bone.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Unionist and Nationalist labels stifling Left or Right debate in Scotland

I am bravely going to carry on eating the occasional Tunnocks tea cake. I know. I have no moral fibre. On the other hand I have tried to avoid using Stagecoach buses because of their predatory practices and their homophobic founder (and SNP bankroller), and I have had some success.

But I have failed miserably in refusing to watch the fitba on Sky despite Alex Salmond’s cosiness with Rupert Murdoch (oh, and Murdoch’s dislike for unions, democracy and all that namby-pamby liberal nonsense). I still recklessly watch Bond movies despite the fact that Shir Sean was born just along the road from me and backs independence for a country he doesn’t want to live in. I even speak to (and occasionally accept drinks from) my mates who unfathomably voted Yes in the referendum.

In my deluded way, I strongly believe that Dame Anne Begg is not a Nazi, despite the conclusions the nationalist underbelly draws, and trolls about, from a photo somebody took of her with a National Front guy she didn’t know was a National Front guy. I know this conclusion is based largely on a pile of misinformation about her long fight for disabled rights and on other equalities issues, her chairing of the Parliament All Party Group on Equalities and her voting against the Iraq war in 2003

Oh, and there was the speech to the Aberdeen TUC St Andrew’s Day Rally in 2014 when she paid tribute to Aberdeen’s “proud record in fighting fascism and standing against apartheid” and vowed that the fight would go on. I am so na├»ve. Don’t you know that the official record, the Aberdeen TUC and Wikipedia are all part of the establishment offensive against Scots patriotism?

I quote this kind of damaging nonsense from the nationalist - and no doubt from the unionist - fanatical fringes, because there is a more worrying mainstream effect. There is an element of an intolerant ‘nationalist’ versus ‘unionist’ political context bedding itself into Scottish politics - as opposed to a constructive ‘left’ versus ‘right’ debate.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Austerity and Social Work

Presentation to Edinburgh Local Practitioner Forum 26 November 2015.
I want to focus on three main challenges that austerity brings to social work and social workers.
1. Poverty and demonisation of the poor.
2. The role and effect of social work, especially in local government
3. Resources - facing the reality. How do we do the best with what we've got?

1. Poverty /demonisation of the poor

There is a deliberate strategy to portray those in need as less deserving so services are not needed - or they become punitive rather than enabling.
Austerity - who is really affected?
  • Many families affected by multiple changes, work, benefits, housing costs, travel costs, council charges outweighing council tax freeze, 
  • Those already on the edge of managing are the worst hit
  • Aim of benefit cuts ostensibly to incentivise work 
  • Shortage of jobs 
  • Often low paid / underemployed 
  • 'In work' poverty a growing problem 
  • Many people needing food bank support are in work 
  • Disproportionate impact on women - who are often the key carer if not the sole carer
Austerity is not an economic necessity it is a political choice. We have role in articulating that with decision-makers.

We also have a role in speaking up for the people we serve. That means combating the myths. Unite’s Our Welfare Works and the Office for National Statistics offer a few figures that might help.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Even Leaner Times To Come For Poor Scots

First published in the Morning Star: Unions and community groups are gearing up for twin demonstrations in Edinburgh and Glasgow on October 29 against another savage round of council cuts.

Glasgow faces cuts of £103 million and 3,000 jobs over two years. This follows cuts of £250m and 4,000 jobs lost since 2010, hitting learning disability and mental health services, home care, supported education for children, community work, cleaning, library services and voluntary organisations.

Unions are calling on the council to declare a “no more cuts” budget.

In Edinburgh, where the council’s income has dropped by almost 20 per cent in real terms since 2010, workers face another slashing of £140m with over 2,000 jobs to go.

Some telling figures expose the human effect of those cuts. Edinburgh has around 18,000 employees. Most of them — about 10,000 workers — require protection of vulnerable groups (PVG) clearance to do their jobs. That’s how many provide direct services to children and vulnerable adults. It doesn’t take a genius to spot that those services are at risk.

When you hear about “leaner” delivery, cutting the “back office” and more use of computer systems, just remember that figure. Ten thousand workers provide direct services to the most vulnerable.

A computer won’t put a disabled person to bed. It won’t comfort or protect an abused child. Some of the 10,000 will. Some of the 2,000 to go would have.

For the first time, redundancies are being sought in front-line child protection — a service that, despite being resourced on the edge, has delivered massive improvements in recent years.

The scale of the cuts is scary enough without the added blow of the rush to cut. Edinburgh bosses want to front-load cuts earlier than unions believe is needed, raising the spectre of compulsory redundancies.