Effects of Austerity Measures on Communities
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Socio-economic and political factors identified in the community of Croydon and the links to key concepts and theories from sociology and social policy.
This essay focuses on the socio-economic and political factors identified in the community of Croydon. It sets out to explain how these factors link with key concepts and theories from sociology and social policy and how this impacts on the community. The main focus here is on the factors that have exacerbated the issues faced by the community. Social capital will form the base for most of the arguments and points.
The Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary (2008) defines socio-economic as related to the differences between groups of people caused by, mainly their financial situation. It can therefore be argued that these are factors and experiences that form and define these groups of people and also these are the factors that decide whether these groups are condemned to a life of poverty or not.
The Community: Croydon (see definition of a community above)
Croydon, with a population of three hundred and eighty two thousand (382k) people (www.london.gov.uk) has the second largest population of all the London Boroughs. It also has the largest number of people aged under fifteen numbering 84k. According to Councillor Tony Newman, also the Chair of the Local Strategic Partnership, Croydon is undergoing transformation to become a modern European city and can do better without bad publicity such as knife crime. It is a diverse community with a diverse ethnicity, faiths, sexual orientation and academic standing all working in different jobs to serve various needs of the community.
Knife Crime: A bane for the local community
The Community of Croydon has been named one of the worst five amongst London Boroughs for knife crime across London. The community is facing unprecedented levels of knife crime which is attributed to budgetary cuts to services that provide social capital to young people and other services such as policing. When the people who police and monitor crime say so, it is difficult to ignore the issue. The Association of Police and Crime Commissioners argues that with reductions in staff levels and support services already made, further budget constraints will lead to difficult questions on how best to structure police forces to respond to changes in crime, and what this would mean for the local service provided to the public. In the month of February 2017 alone, the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) reported 94 knife injuries committed by teenagers under the age of 15. While the Home Office has no precise definition of knife crime, however knife enabled crime includes a variety of other offences involving a bladed weapon, for example it is an offence to cause or threaten harm with a knife and if used in a robbery or assault, it aggravates the offence.
How the Council Gets Its Information on Knife Crime:
But before delving deeper into this issue, it is very important to put into perspective how the community of Croydon and local authority gather information on this bane of knife crime and also give a backdrop to the motivating factors that influence the compilation of this information.
In 2008 a teenage boy named Shakilus Townsend was stabbed several times by other teenagers in Thornton Heath, a district of Croydon. This culminated in the council instituting an investigation named Scrutiny on Knife Crime to focus on teenagers, perpetrators and victims alike. (Available at Croydon.gov.uk)
The Croydon council gathers and obtains information about knife crime through public meetings held with the UK Youth Parliament, vulnerable young people, Metropolitan Police Authority, the Croydon Youth Crime Prevention Strategy and other stakeholders. Meetings are also held with secondary schools, Pupil Referral Units, Head Teachers and the British Broadcasting Corporation.
Social Capital has many definitions, but to put into social work context, the simplest definitions that fit in well with social work are used here. Coleman (1990) argues that social capital is defined by its function as it is not a single entity, but a variety of different entities having two characteristics in common: They all consist of some aspect of social structure, and they facilitate certain actions of individuals who are within the structure. However, Brehm and Rahn (1997, p. 999) put it in another way arguing that social capital is the web of cooperative relationships between citizens that facilitate resolution of collective action problems. It can therefore be argued that social capital has an economical value in it and that this value increases the competitive advantage of individuals through networking through organisations like the local authority provided facilities.
The World Bank defines social capital as institutions, relationships, and norms that shape the quality and quantity of a society's social interactions. The World Bank goes on to elaborate by stating that social cohesion is critical for societies to prosper economically and for development to be sustainable. Social capital is not just the sum of the institutions which underpin a society - it is the glue that holds them together. While knife crime is one of the major social problems facing this community, this essay seeks to highlight why budgetary cuts, which are a consequence of social capital deprivation, are an indirect consequence of the knife crime coupled with other social issues
The Poisoned Chalice of Neo-Liberalism:
As social capital has already been defined above, it is important to put it into perspective so that there is an understanding that the reduction in services that provide social capital for the young has come about as a result of neo-liberalism, so there is a link between The Liberal Democrats whose ideological tradition is liberalism, an ideology that favours privatisation, and the contraction of the public sector/services, reinforced by its ideology of neo liberalism on the coat tails of a book titled the Orange Book: Reclaiming Liberalism. Thomson and Thomson (2008) argue that politics plays a fundamentally important role in shaping social work and therefore it could be argued that it is important to buttress some points with an understanding of the role therefore political processes play in social work. Now back to the Liberal Democrats. Nick Clegg later became leader and he would later use his presence and influence in the Coalition to oversee the shutting down of some Sure Starts children's centres and Connexions in the name of economic liberalism. This policy also oversaw the privatisation of job seeking being contracted to a private individual operating as if it was under the auspices of the Department of Works and Pension (DWP) using a website under the name Universal Jobmatch where thousands of fake jobs were advertised by a private contractor who was paid for roles which should have been performed by the DWP. Incredibly the scandal which left jobseekers at the mercy of this government approved scam, fizzled out without much fanfare. A lot of jobseekers who were already being deprived of services such as the Connexions had to face the frustration of applying for nonexistent jobs.
To put it into context, Connexions was a support service for young people, a service that was meant to help them with advice on topics including education, housing, health, relationships, drugs, and finance. Now these are young people who were most in need. An argument may be developed that says these young people, through a policy of neo-liberalism are likely to develop personal problems and that these personal problems will overlap into a societal problem. These are the apparent knock on effects.
Political Austerity, a function of neo-liberalism affecting social capital:
Battle and Lewis argue that a person's education is closely linked to their life chances, income and well being. When the Conservative and Liberal coalition government came into power, they made "tackling our record debts", as they called it then, one of their cornerstones in dealing with debt. The Liberal Democrats are well remembered by most students for reneging on a policy to scrap university fees altogether. Not only did they renege on this policy, but they went on and signed up to an agreement to actually allow institutions to charge fees up to nine thousand pounds. Now a prospective student from a deprived background would have seen the prospect of finishing university with a debt of over thirty thousand pounds not such an attractive prospect.
The Croydon Guardian newspaper interviewed 4 teenagers aged 16 to 18 to try and get to the bottom of the scourge of knife crime in their community. One of the teenagers had this to say: "Adults should give children more job opportunities and training. This will attract other teenagers too. We need to ask what they like doing so they have the chance to do what they want. I was part of a gang, but for what? Sometimes there is no explanation." Unquote. The other three teenagers also had more or less the same to say.
Another major point of concern that came out of the interviews was that young people carry knifes as a form of defence due to the large numbers of gangs dominating the community. They feel they have to protect themselves. Mills (1959) links what happens to an individual's life with social structures of the wider world. Mills states that the private troubles of men/women effectively trapped them in their lives as they understood only their immediate personal difficulties rather than understanding what was happening to them particularly in reference to historic and histories of their surroundings. These young men and women feel trapped. It can therefore be argued that if it were not for cuts that affect the number of police in the streets, these teenagers would not feel the need to carry knifes as the police would be there to protect them.
Unfortunately this policy of austerity does not affect teenagers only. Some Sure Starts were at the receiving end of these cuts as real spending fell, so states the Nuffield report. To put it into context again there is a need to understand the core purpose of Sure Starts. They were actually developed in consultation with the Childcare Act 2006 and therefore it could be argued that their closure indirectly impinges on the development of children. Their core purpose, as the government states, is to make available universal and targeted early childhood services either by providing the services at the centre itself or by providing advice and assistance to parents, mothers and fathers, and prospective parents in accessing services provided elsewhere. Local authorities must ensure that children's centres provide some activities for young children on site. What can be argued here is that a child who was nine in 2010 when the coalition government took power is now a teenager and poorer in terms of education and social capital due to the austerity which affected the number of these centres made available. The knock on effect is that this cycle is being repeated. If society is going to deprive young people of socialisation at an early age surely what can be expected of the this generation in terms of what they contribute to the well being of a community and the society at large? Cunningham and Cunningham (2009) observe that troubles of individuals are inherently personal and unique however they happen as a result of specific set of socio-economic and political circumstances.
Again the Nuffield report, already mentioned above, goes on to state that the issues that are the principal concern of its inquiry are social outcomes, poverty and inequality and argue that the Coalition had inherited a better situation than its predecessor Labour whose social programmes had delivered expanded public services. Socio-economic gaps in access to services had decreased. Economic and social outcomes, such as pupil achievements and child poverty, had also generally not improved, while differences between the most and least deprived social groups narrowed, the report goes on to state.
The Deprivation of Social Capital:
It can be argued, taking in all the information above, that the exercise of shutting down some Sure Starts and Connexions branches deprived teenagers and other young adults opportunities that could have prepared them better industry leaders of tomorrow. It deprived them of opportunities to socialise and share ideas with like minded peers.
The legislation's attempt to stop people from carrying knives has not been that successful due to the fact that knife crime is still prevalent in Croydon. Government has imposed penalties of up to 4 years maximum for carrying a knife however this legislation is evidently not a deterrent as knife crime is still prevalent in that community. The law allows for pressure groups to work in collaboration with the society and the police in tackling the crime. However according to Hill and Irving (2009) choices of what pressure groups can work on are dictated by local interests. One can see how the weakness of an individual voter is strengthened through belonging to an influential group. Hill and Irving go on to argue that "direct interventions" in elections motivated by local issues are rare. This essentially means come election time the issues that really matter to the community are put in the back burner hence the cycle of these social problems still persist unabated.
Charities and the MET:
Campaigns such as No Knifes Better Lives look at the individual, putting pressure on the family to change with very little change in the role of the state in improving the economic circumstances of the victims. The No Knifes Better Lives approach's challenge is that it focuses on the implement used to commit the crime ignoring the causes or underlying socio economic circumstances. One can argue that if their campaign was focused on getting rid of poverty, access to equal opportunities and education, in the long run this might reduce knife crime.
Another organisation helping young people refrain from using knife is the Turnaround centre. This is a place where young people can drop in and ask for advice and support. Incredibly these organisations rely on the magnanimity of well wishers for funding which actually limits their scope of how much they can do.
According to the census figures, Croydon has one of the largest Afro/Caribbean populations. This makes it very difficult for the police to enforce the "Stop and Search" due to the McPherson report's branding of the Metropolitan Police (MET) being institutionally racist, something the MET actually admitted. To compound that, when the practice was in use it disproportionately targeted Black males. So this dilemma has made the police lose out on an otherwise valuable crime fighting tool.
The police are currently working together with many stakeholders in addressing problems in the community. In the same breath they should have a social worker working with them and becoming an acceptable face of the solution to the community.
One can argue that social workers are always at arm's length dealing with issues, rather should be on the frontline instead of being reactive in dealing with societal issues.
According to the Health and Care Professions Council's (HCPC) standards of proficiency (SoP), social workers must be able to recognise and respond appropriately to unexpected situations and manage uncertainty. It could be argued that this might just be possible in an idealistic world but not in a profession that faces so much austerity cuts. Social workers, by the nature of their profession, have the unique advantage of seeing and understanding how poverty and discrimination affect lives and thereby communities. So it is a big ask for them to strike a balance between meeting SoP and at the same time lawfully practice. It is therefore imperative that social work should be a protected profession, protected from cuts forever. The social work profession, according to the International Federation of Social Workers, expects the practitioners to promote social change, help to foster human relationships and in the process liberate people through empowerment. Again it becomes very difficult, one may argue, that you can operate in an environment that prioritises money above the welfare of human beings.
The Croydon council has recommended the continuous review of developing a range of services for all young people in Croydon. Specifically, investment in expanded opening hours for "places where young people can be" into the late afternoon and late at night during summer months should be explored and future opportunities for younger children actively considered.
Another important recommendation was that the local authority should give consideration to the creation of a Croydon Youth Council as this could be used as a vehicle or channel for the youth to influence the decisions that affect them.
Policing along with social work should and must be protected from budgetary cuts as they are at the forefront of fighting crime.
Eliot Spitzer the former American Democratic politician once remarked "The world has conducted a macro-economic experiment since the cataclysm of 2008. In Europe, the fans of austerity have had their chance, and the results have been a disaster". Unquote.
This essay has stated the case why austerity measures, in other words, social and economic policies are impacting on the day to day lives of people mostly young people. The current government and its predecessor the Conservative/Liberal coalition continue to deprive young people of opportunities that could have made them better people or leaders of tomorrow and unfortunately their policies will continue to impact badly on how social workers deliver their duties in the communities they serve, as they restrict their ability to practice. People are losing services essential to their well being and that cannot be good for the well being of their mental state.
The British Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics states that principles of human rights and social justice are fundamental to the work of a social worker; it can therefore be argued, how can social workers foster a just environment when they have to work under an austerity environment which is unjust and cannot support them.
This essay argues that austerity is state sponsored human rights abuse.
A reflective summary response to the feedback from peers on the formative presentation
Bruce (2013) argues that the process of reflection can be described as the detailed thinking you may undertake about an event or experience, and the new perspective or knowledge you gain as a result of this process.
The compliments my group received from peers about how well we worked together as a unit resonated well with and reinforced the theoretical framework stages of group development described by Tuckman (1965) as norming, forming, storming and performing.
Our group was not that difficult to form as we already had developed interpersonal relations through meeting in the canteen and lectures. Interestingly, due to being the eldest in the group, I seemed to command respect from group members as they presumed being older made me wiser. However some members felt age should not be a criterion for choosing a group leader. As I had already studied each group member's strengths and weaknesses, I simply told them the reasons why they should choose me, at the same time delegating duties for the presentation. Everyone seemed happy with the delegated duties and so the team structure took shape. At the norming stage we set up a collaborative strategy through a whatsapp group. A member would post their idea of the delegated role then we would all look at it and have our input. We found this to be an excellent medium of communication and sharing of ideas. At this stage we also lost our sixth group member due to pregnancy.
Our performance stage appeared to be the easiest as each member wanted the group to succeed. Great and not so great ideas flowed from members as we worked hard to meet the deadline. We complimented each other where it was deserved.
It can therefore be argued that the group formation process of our team was an event I have just reflected about.
A short evaluation of an interview undertaken with a professional about their role and experiences of providing services in a community-based organisation.
Interviewing a Nurse Assessor
When planning for my interview I thought about Egan's (2014, pg.136.) use of probes to explore and clarify points of view, decisions and proposals. This gave me an idea about how I was going to probe the nurse so she could engage and tell me in detail the scope of her role and challenges she faces in her role. I was very interested in the direct positive impact she was having on the community hospital too.
This community hospital is what could be described, as, argued by Cunningham and Cunningham (2008) a traditional geographic community due to its location and shared space, proximity and years of shared experience which are seen to have inculcated certain common values and norms and there is a sense of permanence, shared responsibility, duty and mutual support.
Adams et al in Brint (1994) argue that an organisation should have valued professionals who combine expertise with the technical capacity to solve problems, particularly major global problems such as health and the environment.
My interview was with a Nurse Assessor for an intermediate care services (IMC) in a community hospital. She stated that her role sometimes included working in front of the house, Accident and Emergency (A and E) admissions avoidance and stated that she found this quite overwhelming. I asked why she had to perform a role which appeared to be outside her remit and her response was that even though she had been trained for the role, there was a serious lack of qualified personnel so she and her colleagues had to rotate and share duties.
She does not specifically do social care but because they work as a team, she tends to sign post to social care if patients do not fit the IMC criteria for rehabilitation. This role is currently evolving as they are working as an integrated discharge team that is, working in teams with social workers and hospital discharge coordinators to facilitate early and timely discharges. It was quite interesting how her role processes are not that dissimilar to those of a social worker, starting with assessment, moving through to planning, intervention finally monitoring, evaluation and review. Adams et al (2009).
Presently the team is transitioning from using social care policies towards what is called a Trusted Assessor who can do all three roles, meaning that they will have to work within social care policies and legislation while assimilating the trusted assessor concept. It is a work in progress.
The challenges related to her role are mainly friction in teams working collaboratively and no clear cut boundaries, hence blurring the roles. Above all, keeping up with the pace of the changing face and needs in Health and Social Care and the aging population was another challenge they had to deal with as a team on a regular basis. Demand outstrips supply and the need for services has been outstripped by lack of growth in infrastructure. She felt that her professional values were being compromised by the pressures of work. Reflecting on what she had told me, I referred to Hertzberg et al (2010) who argued that work motivation is intrinsic to the job and that conditions of employment and relations in the workplace have the capacity to demotivate.
In this new structure of collaborative care (integrated discharge teams) she works with three social workers in the team.
They work together to facilitate. She refers and discusses relevant cases with them and they in turn will discuss and refer some patients to her if they feel that their needs can be met in intermediate care even if it means accessing IMC to reduce the care package.
After the interview I was left with a myriad of dilemmas, but the one that stuck to my mind was how the generality of healthcare professionals are victims of legislation probably designed by people who spend most of their time looking for mistakes than solutions, as can be seen by the bad press that they usually get. Healthcare workers are supposed to abide by and adhere to certain statutes yet their professional competencies are being hindered by a lack of resources. (Adams, et al. pg 92 2009)
Compared to its peers in the G7, a group of large developed economies, the UK is ranked sixth on healthcare expenditure. (Office of National Statistics, 2017)
Adams, R. Dominelli, L. and Payne, M. (2009) Social work: themes, issues and critical debates. 3RD edn. Basingstoke: Palgrave.
Bruce, L. (2013) Reflective practice for social workers: a handbook for developing professional confidence. Maidenhead: McGraw Hill Open University Press
Coleman, James S. 1990. Foundations of social theory. Cambridge: Harvard University Press
Cunningham, J. and Cunningham, S. (2008) Sociology and social work. Exeter: Learning Matters.
Egan, G. (2002) The skilled helper: a problem-management and opportunity-development approach to helping 7th edn. Pacific Grove: Brooks Cole
Hertzberg, F., Mausner, B., and Snyder, B. B. (2010) The motivation to work. 12th edn. London: Transaction Publishers.
Hill, M. and Irving, Z. (2009) Understanding social policy. 8th edn. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell
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