Friday, August 19, 2011

Riots, rubbish and the decline of Britain

A remarkable amount of rubbish has been spoken and written about Britain’s riots.
Start with Prime Minister David Cameron. “These riots were not about poverty,” he said this week. “That insults the millions of people who, whatever the hardship, would never dream of making others suffer like this.”
The beleaguered prime minister might wish poverty was not a factor, but he can’t possibly know it wasn’t.
In fact, The Guardian, in a fine piece of journalism, gathered the addresses of 1,100 people charged in the riots and plotted them against a map showing neighbourhoods’ official measures of “multiple deprivation.”
The majority of areas where suspects lived were deprived, and two-thirds of them had got poorer between 2007 and 2010. More than 40 per cent of the suspects lived in the bottom 10 per cent of communities on the deprivation index.
That does not justify rioting or theft or any other crime. But it does suggest it is stupid, if the goal is understanding and prevention, to pretend poverty, joblessness and deprivation are not factors.
Then move on to consider the moral outrage of politicians of all stripes, who spoke as if the rioters were aliens who had emerged, to everyone’s shock, on British streets.
Peter Oborne, the chief political commentator for the Daily Telegraph, a staunchly conservative newspaper, laid that to rest brilliantly.
There was something “very phony and hypocritical about all the shock and outrage expressed in Parliament,” he wrote. “MPs spoke about the week’s dreadful events as if they were nothing to do with them.”
“I believe that the criminality in our streets cannot be dissociated from the moral disintegration in the highest ranks of modern British society,” he wrote. “The last two decades have seen a terrifying decline in standards among the British governing elite. It has become acceptable for our politicians to lie and to cheat. An almost universal culture of selfishness and greed has grown up.”
Sir Richard Branson, he wrote, was considering moving his Virgin operations to Switzerland to avoid taxes. A report said that might be a blow to the Chancellor of the Exchequer — the finance minister — because it would mean less government revenue.
“In a sane and decent world such a move would be a blow to Sir Richard, not the Chancellor,” Oborne wrote. “People would note that a prominent and wealthy businessman was avoiding British tax and think less of him. Instead, he has a knighthood and is widely feted.” People who have become rich in part because of the structures of British society — schools, roads, police — no longer wish to pay their share.
MPs stood in Parliament to deplore the looters’ theft of TVs and designer clothes, Oborne wrote. But the same politicians greedily grabbed whatever they could under their lax expense provisions until they were exposed. Can a Labour MP who made taxpayers pay for a $14,000 Bang & Olufsen television really claim to be much different from a looter lugging a flat-screen TV out of a shop?
“The prime minister showed no sign that he understood that something stank about yesterday’s Commons debate,” Oborne wrote. “He spoke of morality, but only as something which applies to the very poor ... He appeared not to grasp that this should apply to the rich and powerful as well.”
I visited England four years ago, for the first time in years.
The greatest shock was the drunken louts, obnoxious and threatening. They weren’t all young, and it wasn’t a matter of being in the bar zone at night. They were in Exeter, a quiet university town, at night, and on trains at midday. They seemed a symptom of a decaying society.
As do the riots.
I don’t want to add to the rubbish. But any society that restricts upward mobility, cuts supports to those on the bottom who have become dependent on them over generations and not only accepts a perpetually uneducated, unemployed underclass, but tolerates lawless acts by some of its members, is going to face big problems.
If it increasingly celebrates the gap between the rich and the rest — winners and losers under the system set up by the winners — those problems will be more dramatic.
And no amount of politicians’ pronouncements, policing or moralizing are going to change the reality.
Canada is, of course, much different. But we should, perhaps, think about just how much different.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

CLBC service cuts hurt most vulnerable

It's understandable that Social Development Minister Harry Bloy is ashamed of cruel cuts to services for some of B.C.'s most vulnerable citizens.

But his refusal to acknowledge the reality and his flat-out false statements are insulting to people with developmental disabilities and their often exhausted and frightened families.

"Developmental disabilities" is a clunky term. Many of the adults supported by Bloy's ministry are what we once called mentally handicapped. Some have severe autism or fetal alcohol syndrome; many have major physical and mental health problems as well. Some need round-the-clock medical care and constant supervision for their own safety, and the safety of others.

Much of that care has been provided through group homes. To save money, the government has been closing group homes and pushing people into cheaper arrangements.

And, based on the evidence, the government and Community Living B.C. know this is wrong. Bloy has insisted no people have been forced to move against their will and families have been consulted. Families say both claims are false.

Connie and Ken Greenway told Times Colonist reporter Lindsay Kines they were given little warning and no say in a decision to close the group home where their 46-year-old disabled son Darrin has lived for 15 years.

CLBC, the Crown corporation created by the government to provide services to the developmentally disabled, wanted the company operating the group home to sign a new contract with a deep funding cut. The company refused.

So the home will close and residents will be forced to move.

Remember, we are talking about fragile, vulnerable people with serious problems and great difficulty in dealing with change. Many, like Darrin, have spent years in the same home. It is, for them, like being ripped from family and sent into the unknown.

For their families, the changes bring a whole new set of fears. All parents fret about their children's future. But the fears are much more real as aging parents confront the reality that their vulnerable children will continue to be at risk after they die or are incapable of providing support and advocacy.

The closures aren't isolated. Community Living B.C. closed more than 40 group homes last year, forcing the residents to move and - often - reducing they support they received.

And the closures are not driven by revelations of waste, or innovations in support.

This is about cutting costs. The government has chosen not to put these families first.

According to CLBC, the amount of funding per client has fallen every year since it was created by the Liberals six years ago, under Christy Clark's watch as children's minister.

In 2006-07, the first full year of operation, funding provided an average $51,154 per client. This year, funding will be $45,306. And by 2013, according to the government projections, it will be cut to $41,225 per client.

If you factor in inflation, by 2013 the funding available for each client will be 30 per cent less than it was in 2006.

The effect of the cost-cutting goes far beyond group home closures. People who have, with extensive support, lived full and rich lives are seeing that ripped away, condemned to spend their days alone in a room.

And parents whose children are turning 19 face a special nightmare. Services for developmentally disabled youth are provided by the Ministry of Children and Families. Strong school programs offer opportunities.

On the day clients turn 19, those supports are ripped away. CLBC assumes responsibility, and parents find their children's lives are dramatically worse. Programs are unavailable, waiting lists are long and growing. Even when CLBC's own assessments say supports are needed for safety reasons, help is not provided.

This is not a case of families or interest groups demanding more, or better, support and care.

They just want the levels that have been in place for years to be maintained.

They want assurances that an adult child, unable to fend for herself, will not be put in danger, or forced to live a needlessly diminished life.

But the government, on your behalf, has decided it costs too much to continue helping vulnerable people live life fully.