Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Guest Blog 16

Back to the Future

As Jim renames his TR round-up series ‘Bleak Futures’, we may well be feeling pretty bleak ourselves about how our professional dedication and expertise have been trashed by a minister whose monumental ignorance about our work is matched only by his moral vacuity and his servility to his corporate puppet masters. Has there ever been a Parliamentary Bill, where its architect remains utterly oblivious to who are the main protagonists in the profession he is destroying? Yet, it is surely not delusional (and certainly seasonal!) to find hope in the New Year, when one contemplates that Grayling’s unseemly (even panicky) haste over the Offender Rehabilitation Bill was driven by an event which even he cannot shamelessly railroad: the General Election…

At this point I imagine a dispirited groan, since I know that many of you feel that our campaign of writing to MPs and lobbying parliament was a wasted effort. Speaking personally, I know how many hours I wasted writing to Lib Dem MPs, who would agree with our case, before voting with the whip like sheep. So no-one can be more cynical than me. However, cynicism and defeatism aren’t the same thing, except perhaps in the case of Lorely Burt whose argument to me was that there was little point of resisting the OR Bill as it had progressed so far already… Less a reluctant lamb to the slaughter in her case than a rabbit hypnotised by the headlights.

But there were real victories of a small kind, and pleasing to my vanity too: as when I was rung by Glenda Jackson while skulking in the car at my son’s football training, and she said that she would support us, and that she shared our outrage at what the Con Dems were doing. Luckily in retrospect I resisted the star-struck impulse to ask her what it was like to roll around naked with Oliver Reed in Women in Love, since, as my husband pointed out, that was Alan Bates. At such moments, one could actually feel that copious lobbying was having an effect.

So what are the green shoots of our recovery, since we seem to have achieved so little? Keeping with the grass metaphor, we can point to those in 2014 who campaigned successfully and succeeded at a grassroots level, such as the housing campaigners in Newham and Hoxton.
 (I'm not saying it's easy as this attempt at making a film about the truth behind this government struggles to raise funds). But I realise this was on a much smaller scale and without the full weight of the government against them, but the same applies in our case, and my belief is that those in parliament need to be forced to do the right thing, and they will never do it without a great deal of collective pressure from below, as well as passionate and informed protest. 

This fits into a wider ideological/class war, and little by little we have to exert that pressure, with the one single weapon (if I can avoid sounding like Jonathan Aitken before he went to prison), that we have truth on our side, and the government is basically a front pedalling lies and propaganda for corporate interests. So, we may have lost the battle, or at least this stage of it, but we must win the war and so must regroup now or later and start again.

In this election year, the knowledge of massive Tory funding bears out this narrative that the fight will be between a clapped out dogma adopted by the privateers and their lickspittle parliamentary mouthpieces, and grassroots movements struggling to articulate their alternative and strategy. Certainly, it is hard to see how our profession can meaningfully survive a Tory component in the next government. However, there could be endless permutations of coalition and so one way forward is to pin down those who might be a part of it. What are UKIP’s views on Probation? They seem to have little view on anything other than blaming immigration for everything and managed to change their mind in a week or so about the NHS, so asking them this question would have amusement value if nothing else.

The Greens are most sure to re-nationalise Probation and support our profession perhaps but they need to be pinned down too. There are now open bets on Alex Salmond becoming Deputy Prime Minister – so, what are the SNP’s views on Probation? We know Plaid Cymru are sound (three cheers for Wales!). I heard Jenny Chapman say that she would scrutinise the contracts but there is no further assurance from the Labour Party and it is hard to give them the confidence one would like to.

Somehow, we have to exert enough pressure to force them to agree, and while I’m not promising yet more letters will pay off, it is surprisingly easy to lobby your local MP and the prospective MPs in your area at the moment, because they are desperate for your votes. (I wrote a very rude letter to the Conservative hopeful in Cheltenham on New Year’s Day, fed up of receiving lobbying emails with pictures of him and David Cameron, with my last sentence being ‘I hope you crash and burn and go back to your elitist barrister existence in London’ – he got back to me within the hour offering to meet up and praising Probation to the skies!) So one moral we can take out of the New Year is that change is a constant, and that life can be surprising. So let’s hope that surprise and change can be our keywords for 2015!

To approach it another way: for the first time in a while, politicians are the nervous and insecure ones, facing the possibility of life on benefits and weekly interrogation about whether they have ducked out of an internship at Poundland (well, maybe that was an exaggeration, but remember hope is our watchword, and it is a nice image…). 

Despite the despicable 10-year contracts, every party wants to get votes and all are amenable to lobbying. We could try and push for all the parties who could form a coalition, apart from the Tories and Lib Dems, to put a promise in their manifesto to repeal privatisation. At the very least, we want those in power to have an awareness of our profession, and our power to organise and lobby and speak for ourselves. Which brings me back in a nice loop to Grayling who dismantles the service without knowing the difference between a PO and a PSO (you might have expected even him to see that there is an extra letter between them, but there you go…).

Joanna Hughes


  1. As always Joanna spot on, fully of clarity and erudition. (to coin a phrase I have heard somewhere "Keep it up" my dear. I too have not given up and continue to lobby MP's in my area and other MP's I have targeted. Caroline Lucas has kept in contact with me. I am from Wales and have been a lifelong member of the Labour Party. I have now joined the Greens and will actively campaign for them. So yes Change for me is a focus for 2015 and dare I say it Hope. Keep in touch Joanna, always gladdens my heart to see your guest blog and to hear what you have to say. As always I wish you well.


    1. Perhaps all Public services need to collectively Go Green.

    2. Whatever people think of Labour the fact is they are the only alternative to the tories. However genuine the ideals are voting for Plaid and the Greens will increase the possibility of a tory majority/largest party result in May imo.

    3. No it fucking won't. Vote for us or the tories get in - just another blue labour lie. Dont fall for it.

  2. I feel the 10 year contracts is something that political parties against TR should be screaming very loud about.
    The Tories in government have decided to privatise probation. A labour government may wish to renationalise it.
    10 years is two whole parliamentry terms, so a 10 year contract effectively prevents any incoming government from making decisions on what aspects of state should be publically owned or privately tendered.
    I have a feeling that as with most of Graylings other decisions that it may not be legal or even constitutional.

  3. Joanna - well done you! As ever -thought-provoking, interesting and easy to read! with a message we can't ignore!

  4. Returning probation to the public sector is an aspiration that many share. I think it unlikely though that a future Labour government would be that interested and even if they were the 10-year poison pill penalty would deter. If a return to the public sector were to happen, I think it would spring from a political necessity in response to a series of crisis’s and failures in a TR imploding scenario: as tragedy after tragedy exposed fundamental weaknesses in service delivery while shareholders continued to receive their dividends. There could be more corruption scandals, similar to what we have already seen with electronic tagging. Just as the Hatfield rail disaster exposed the failings of the privatised Railtrack and led to its demise and return to public ownership, so we may see something similar with probation services in the years ahead. In the meantime, all the more reason, of course, to document the truth about the CRC cowboys as they recreate the Wild West.

  5. Given Grayling's role in establishing the Works Programme and now TR I wonder where he will strike next? This vile Government and its agenda to sell off key public service to foreign companies is a key objective so I think the current crisis in the NHS suits their agenda very nicely. So let the crisis loom large in the minds of the public and then suggest privatisation to solve it...simples eh? I think the hysteria being promoted on Grayling-friendly BBC is very interesting and the pre cursor to the government acting...
    Also I think social workers with both vulnerable adults and children are at more risk now of privatisation now. I predict the government will start with elderly care ( as the bid to sell off child protection was robustly defended earlier this year) then use this as the model to sell off child protection too. Pretty much like TR really where they have started with the CPAs and then when they build their model and it beds in they will also sell of the NPS high riskers...watch this space...

    1. Thank you Blogwen and ML for your kind words and keep lobbying! Anon at 18.09 - your words strike fear into my heart as I have an interview for a social worker job this week with Children and Families. I don't think I can do this all over again.

    2. I am anon 18:09 and wish you good luck for your interview Joanna.
      I do not mean to alarm, although truly this is an alarming prospect...I just believe this is where the government is heading. Look at the cuts to Local Authority budgets recently announced....the nightmare scenario of privatisation for key services is looming. All of this is shaping up IMO for Grayling to open the flood gates. We need to think carefully before voting in the next General Election to prevent the Tories even coming close to government again. Actually I guess anyone reading this blog is already there with that thought.....

  6. http://forces.tv/70775724

    New Prisoners to Be Asked About Forces Background

  7. Probation already do this! Even have a special Delius flag....probation ahead of the prisons again...

    1. I don't know about the flag - but as a practitioner - it was called taking a social history - I started from birth to current - every time - is it no longer standard practice? - if not how can you give client an opportunity to reveal issues of particular relevance that may need attention now?

    2. Goodness Andrew, it most certainly is not standard practice, and like yourself, I am social work trained. I have decided to leave the profession after 14 years, and return to social work, and I shall be gone in a month. I set great store by taking a good social history, usually building it up over time. I am not sure if there will be much time for this with the new cohort of trainee probation officers, as their training will be rushed through in 15 months, and then into the rigours of an NPS caseload. A recipe for crash and burn if I ever heard one!

  8. So far as I know, there's absolutely nothing to stop a new labour govt pledging that they will renationalise probation, or anything else, as soon as the contracts run out. Or sooner, if the spivs fail to meet their obligations. Anybody feel they'll make such a pledge??

  9. Why would anyone trust anything that Labour says in the run-up to an election, they would basically say anything that they think would get them votes. I spent hours writing letters, attending lobbyies in Westminster and talking with my MP about what was happening to Probation. He listened and appeared very supportive, however when it came down to it he marched through the lobby like the sheep that he is. While I hate the Tories and would never in a million years vote for them, Labour comes close behind them as far as I am concerned - since it was their intention to do whatever the Tories have done. I feel totally disillusioned and powerless at the moment and this is having a real effect upon my mental health, however, I certainly won't be voting for the ConDems or the Labour Party at the coming election.

    1. Everyone feels the same. It would be fantastic if all of the big 3 lost their jobs. I don't know if they would qualify for 'short money' if that was the case. It's one of those scandalous things they don't talk about, that they get money even if they aren't in power. I don't think any of the alternatives would be any better but it would terrify the parasitic political class and wouldn't half revitalise democracy if the electorate showed that we have the power to elect bus pass Elvis and hangus the monkey and actually fucking did it.

    2. #parasitic political class
      so true

  10. This is the second time in my working life that I have been on strike. The first time was for 6 months in 1988 when Thatcher was in power. I said then that I would never strike again. However it is difficult to go against the beliefs and values of à fair and just society. The tories hit the poorest and most vulnerable everytime.

  11. off subject - an interesting article

    How can social workers tackle unconscious bias?

    1. Unconscious Bias is subtle but pervasive. It’s a blindspot which means it is impossible to see past it on your own and yet it shapes your actions constantly.

      All of us have these biases, they have become our reality, they define who we can and can’t make a difference to, and our beliefs about what people are capable of. Our practice becomes limited.

      We often go into our careers full of vision and passion, ‘I want to make a difference’, is the drive for many of us. But we don’t realise that our beliefs, inherited and formed out of our life experiences, institutional culture and upbringing, all create our reality. Like a fish in water, we are unaware that the water is there, shaping our every thought and decision.

      Youth professionals experience unconscious bias just like anyone else and it affects the choices they make. In this profession more than most we all need the opportunity to confront our limiting mindsets, our own blindspots. So much training focuses on the skills to do the job, but little is about the ‘being’ or the mindset to be effective and yet this has a huge capability to transform outcomes.

      The first step is to spot it, awareness is key. Below are a few of the typical blind spots teams identify when we are working with them on unconscious bias. Importantly these are not criticisms of existing practice but attitudes individuals have uncovered for themselves that have been limiting them from being their best.

      1. Blame. In a profession like social work many staff have had to protect themselves against a blame culture and this has become ingrained in their practice as a habitual low-risk approach. Professionals are fearful at times of taking ‘right action’ in the face of disagreement or of being the one to make key decisions and so a blindspot develops. Whilst teams may say they are comfortable with risk-taking and see it as unavoidable, in practice they are stifled by the fear of blame and begin to lose touch with their professional instincts.

      2. Too busy. Another unconscious bias identified is shaped by the demand to do ‘more for less’. Professionals have prioritised ‘getting things done’ over important investments in their own development like reflective practice. Without spending time on reflection and development they risk perpetuating the cycle of being ‘too busy’ but become vulnerable to making the same mistakes twice and losing sight of their original aspirations.

      3. Mistrust. One final example is a mistrust of other services: through historic experience, an ‘us and them’ bias can develop between services such that teams do not effectively collaborate or challenge each other. This can cause delays in the progress of cases as each team believes the other is ineffective and lowers the standard of what can be achieved or expected, failing to proactively confront and deal with the breakdown in effective working.

  12. Probation Vacancies - urgently need filling - in Trumpton

    If we cannot get media attention with logic maybe we need to use Satire & Humour?


  13. The Pantomime season is truly with us in the way the NPS and CRC's are being run and the with political scum begging for your vote

  14. Report about charities getting most of their income from government:
    Again,I have real concerns about the role of charities in the death of public sector probation and question whether many of them ARE still charities.

    1. They're aren't. I used to direct debit to Shelter. I wouldn't give them a fucking bean now

    2. The country’s biggest charities are getting so much money from the taxpayer that some are effectively part of the government, a report on the funding of voluntary organisations warned yesterday.
      It said the scale of state subsidy to the largest charities is often hidden but may run as high as half their income - £6.5 billion a year according to the most recently available figures.

      Some – including Mencap, Leonard Cheshire Disability and Action for Children – may be receiving around nine tenths of their income from arms of government and the public sector, the report said.

      Others do not identify the amount of money they get from the taxpayer, particularly those that operate services paid for by the public sector.

      One, Marie Stopes International, fails to say in its most recent accounts where £86 million paid for abortion and contraceptive advice services came from. And some organisations that are registered as charities are really state-run quangos in disguise, the report from the Centre for Policy Studies said.

      It said eight of the top 50 charities are really public bodies, including the Arts Council, the Big Local Trust which distributes National Lottery good cause money, the British Council which promotes British culture around the world, and organisations running academy schools.

      The report by William Norton for the Tory-leaning think tank said that taxpayers should know when charities rely on their money rather than the generosity of donors.

      He said that when charities hide the sources of their income they are as much at risk as the banks whose profits came from obscure loan packages before the financial collapse of 2007 and 2008. ‘If large charities are dependent for most of their income on public funds then ultimately they are dependent upon someone having made a political decision in their favour,’ Mr Norton said.
      ‘Political decisions can change. They are more likely to do so in an environment where the public finances are under considerable pressure.

      'We saw in the financial crisis what happens when a sector’s accounting practices obscure the underlying robustness of its sources of income.

      ‘When a charity is dependent on a single source, that potential fragility should be obvious on the face of its accounts.’ Mr Norton added: ‘Once a private charity has undertaken services for a long time while dependent upon receiving public funds, the line between the public and the private sectors begins to blur. ‘It blurs in two ways. At some point does the organisation cease to be a private body? More fundamentally, does it cease to be a charity?’
      The warning comes at a time when major charities have run into criticism over both methods of fundraising from private donors and intervention into politics.

      The use of street ‘chugging’ gangs to persuade shoppers to sign over regular donations and of high-pressure cold calling have proved unpopular, and Oxfam is among organisations that have been called politically biased by MPs for their campaigns on poverty in Britain.