Thursday, 7 December 2017

Ken Loach: 'Charity or Justice'

The award-winning film and TV director, Ken Loach, whose work over 50 years from Cathy Come Home to I, Daniel Blake has consistently explored questions of social justice, gave the 16th Longford Lecture on Wednesday November 29, 2017 at Church House Westminster. His lecture, entitled ‘Charity or Justice’, drew a capacity audience, was chaired by the journalist, Jon Snow, and was broadcast simultaneously for the first time on National Prison Radio. The full transcript can be found here, but I've selected the section on prison and probation:-

Youth and Probation Services

Two areas that I know connect to Frank Longford’s concerns and to your work, Jon, and to youth work and probation services. It is work of which I don’t have a huge experience, but it is done in our name, and I think we all have an obligation, because it is done in our name, to know about it, to listen to those who do it, to read about it, because it seems it is falling apart.

So we have got some figures together: 2010 to 2016, £387 million cut from youth services. Youth services perform a vital role. Like a number of these different areas in this chain, they are the ones which, when kids are feeling disconnected, give them hope, maybe return them to education, show them a positive part they can play in the community. They can help them find work, help them develop, play a positive part, prevent many of the problems from arising later on. But they have been cut.

Things like the Education Maintenance Allowance, which isn’t strictly youth work but a key element for kids who are maybe struggling about staying on at school. Education Maintenance Allowance: cut. People, poor, needing to work, needing to bring in an income, should they stay on at school? They would have done before, they won’t now.

I will just quote an MP, I don’t know her, Vicky Foxcroft, an MP from Lewisham. She said this: “Children Social Care – cut. Family Support Services – cut. Sure Start Centres – cut. Child Protection Services – cut. Damaging young people’s life chances, worsening mental health, and increasing the possibility of them getting into trouble and becoming involved in serious youth violence”. That is what that £387 million that has been saved is contributing to - all those problems. And centres like New Horizon pick up the pieces. They pick up the pieces of wanton damage done to young people.

Again the figures: a third of people are at risk of poverty. A third! I couldn’t believe that when I read it. A third of young people at risk of poverty or social exclusion. And over ten per cent are experiencing material deprivation. One in ten. What would those who believed in support from the cradle-to-the-grave have made of that, I wonder?

A youth worker said: “These young people will have nowhere to turn, there will be no one who is qualified or trained to support them. It will lead to more anti -social behaviour, gangs, depression and poor mental health in young people, and increased work for the police forces that have already been cut”.

Of course, this is the absurdity, isn’t it? You cut the work that is being done to keep people going, and of course you pass that burden at a later date when the problems are huge to people where it is going to cost much more, but you have already cut them. Maybe there is a logic there, but I don’t see it.

Youth Jails

Youth jails. Now one thing you would think if you were a parent and your child was involved in bad things that got him or her into trouble with the police and got them into the courts and they got a custodial sentence, one thing you might think, “well, that is bad, I am really distressed but at least they will be safe. At least they will be protected from the things that got them into trouble in the first place”.

How wrong can you be? A support worker at the New Horizon Youth Centre told me a story of a young prisoner that she was seeing. She said the last time she saw him he was terrified. There had been a fight in the prison and the officers had locked themselves away in their office because they couldn’t deal with it. Cuts, eh? Sounds good.

Last week a report by prison inspectors reported in the Guardian - so it must be true – said: “Surging levels of violence at an unsafe G4S-run youth jail and there was no evidence that staff can adequately care and control this volume of young people”. The Chief Inspector of Prisons said – this is the Chief Inspector of Prisons talking about jails for young people, this is our responsibility, okay, this is what our taxes go on so we should know. This is what he said: “Not one single institution is safe for young prisoners, not one”. Who is the Minister in charge of that? Why are they still in post? That is the Chief Inspector of Prisons, that isn’t some bleeding heart liberal. That will be a guy who is tough. Not one single institution is safe for young prisoners. You know about this more than me. What are we going to do?

The Probation Service

The Probation Service. Now here is a surprising story! In 2014 we had a probation service. In 2014 it was split, half was the National Probation Service, and half was the Community Rehabilitation Service. In 2015, big surprise, you know what’s coming: the Community Rehabilitation Service was privatised, that is why it was split. That is what they do, they divide services up, they divide industries up and then they sell them off. That is what they have done with the Community Rehabilitation Service.

Many companies own or provide services for this. Most are owned by one company now. Venture capital companies are involved. Why are venture capital companies involved in probation? Has anyone got a clue why that should be? I cannot imagine.

Well, the person who did it obviously can. So what are people saying? We found some comments by people working in the probation service and in the Community Rehabilitation Service. These are the people on the front line, beginning again with the Inspectorate of Constabulary. This is what it says about probation: “Most service users have not received a service that meets their needs or is likely to stop them reoffending”. That is HM Inspector of Constabulary.

UNISON, the union, did a survey of the people who work there, (and one moral is, join a union. I hope you all are members of a union,) This is what UNISON found amongst the people who work in the Probation Service. This is what one said: “The service is target-driven and form-filling. They have no regard for their staff or the offenders with whom we work”. That’s one.

Another says: “It doesn’t seem to be about the service users, it’s all about hitting targets”. That’s the publicly-owned bit.

The privately run piece, Community Rehabilitation, this is what people who work in it said. One said: 

“Many cases have not been contacted for months. One case today he had not heard from anyone at Probation for 16 months in a 24-month suspended sentence. It’s not good enough”, they say with massive understatement.

Next one: “I have never seen morale so low”.
Next one: “There is an emphasis on cutting costs to make a profit”. 

Well, there’s a surprise. That’s the point of it, pal, that’s the point of it, make a profit. 

Next one: “Total confusion. What is important? Certainly not protecting the public. How can an organisation profit from crime?”

Well, the people who invested obviously can profit from crime. That is why they did it, and that is why the government gave them the chance. Profit from crime, at the expense of the people we need to help.

Last quote: “We no longer deliver anything of meaning, just pass our service users on to partnership agencies who are at best poor and at worst do literally nothing”.

Why do we allow this to happen? Why do we allow it to happen?


Again, there will be people listening who could write this far better than I can. But again, we just try to listen and hear what is happening. From 2010/11 to now, the budget has been reduced by nearly a quarter. Fewer staff looking after more prisoners. Frontline staff has fallen by over a quarter in the last seven years. Well, if you cut the money, of course you cut the staff. An ex-prisoner I spoke to today said he has never known prison as dangerous and chaotic as now.

Everyone tells me mental health is the biggest problem. Thousands are in prison who should be cared for in a mental hospital and if they are dangerous to themselves they should be in a secure mental hospital. And let’s just remember, many of those mental hospitals, the old ones were not good and they had to be changed or closed or something, but just shut down and people turned out for care in the community which, as we know, is now non-existent virtually? So it is a huge problem and the people in prisons are having to deal with it. And drugs, ever more available, appalling drugs that people go off their heads with, and then create massive problems. And one man said to me: “I wouldn’t share a cell now because I would be fearful of the person I would be sharing with”. Not because he didn’t get on with other prisoners, but because the danger was too intense.

2015-16. Last year there were six apparent homicides in prisons, the previous year there were four. That’s a total of ten, and that is more than the previous eight years put together. So this is danger for the people who are listening to us now. That’s really intense. In 2016, there were a record number of suicides in prison in England and Wales, 119: 107 men, 12 women. Violence is at record levels with assaults. Self-harm - over 41,000 in the same period, still rising.

And one statistic just absolutely hit me: for women there are twice as many cases of self-harm than there are women prisoners. So some poor women are cutting themselves and cutting themselves and cutting themselves as we speak. And we allow it to happen. People listening will know this far better than I do, but I think we have to know it because it is done in our name, and we have to break the crime of silence so that none of us can say: “Well, we didn’t know about this, it’s a surprise”. We do know, we do know. We have to demand that those who are responsible are accountable.

And the people who are responsible are not the people carrying it out. It is the people who demand that it should be carried out, the people who make the policy.

Ken Loach


  1. Thank you, Ken Loach. I'm not crazy for thinking this way after all.
    Thank you, JB, for highlighting Ken Loach's words.

    "Why do we allow this to happen? Why do we allow it to happen?"

  2. You can gauge the appetite to change things by the level of union membership and the degree of activism. Our case is undermined by whingers who moan instead of getting of their arses, collusion, infighting, apathy, and a defeatist attitude. Loach is right. Join a union, get active, and refuse to take any crap especially from the privateers.

    1. I see the problem with the privateers, if organised will sideline you, and these lot aren't even organised so probably more like some evil manager will take out whatever vengeance they like and get away with it

  3. Very engaging and I get the point we need to reflect on this state of affairs. It is incredibly upsetting to read about murders in prisons and young people so afraid in custody as to be in a state of being permanently terrified.

    However did we ‘the people’ allow this to happen?! I would argue it was forced upon us all.

    Yes in an ideal world we will all be part of a union and call the shots. Unfortunately the only successful union these days really lies in transport. Having worked on the railways I have observed that’s because it’s completely ingrained in the culture and when it comes to transport a strike is a very powerful weapon indeed. If someone is unfairly dismissed on the railways they stand together and the whole bloody lot go on strike in support. In public services people stick their head down and think “I hope that doesn’t happen to me”. The union culture is not ingrained in public services in the way it once was. Too many have been let down too many times that when the time came no one had any faith that there was sufficient bottle to fight.

    Unfortunately in Probation, the crucial moment has passed (for now). What happened was and is a disgrace and the failures and should haves have been well documented on this blog.

    I am convinced change is on its way and that ‘we the people’ want change but I think we are all asking and trying to discover as a nation is ‘where does the power lie’? Is it our government, is it corporations, is it the EU? These are the issues that need to be worked out for real change to happen and it will take time but we will get there. Yes we must use this time to mobilise, keep our powder dry and wait for the next opportunity to make changes to support the most vulnerable in our society.

  4. Ken Loach
    Once made a very vital and groudbreaking docu for its time, Cathy Come Home. Still relevant today.
    Now has made 'I, Daniel Blake' again very valid but about 6 yrs too late at least. I dont even have to eatch it to say if its good or bad, frankly I dont care cus I've lived it Ok. I had to go through it when noone in the media gave a shit.
    I am afraid I cant bear this lefty oaf, claiming all these accolades when in actual fact for his like its now just about sorrow tourism or trendy sorrow, docu sorrow etc. In actual fact it just lefty naval gazing, an admition he and others like his did sweet FA at the time.
    When you lot decide to strike (and you should) then we'll see if hes there with you on the picket line ok.
    Oh and John Snow is just as bad, clueless media halfwit with zero integrity.
    Can we please stop lauding these pretenders as if they are somehow relevant when actual they aren't (at all).

    1. 11:44

      "lefty navel gazing"
      "you lot should"
      "media halfwit"

      I'm left wondering just what you'd consider has been your contribution to the society you live in?

      I'd guess its all gone wrong, but it wasn't your fault, so someone else can deal with it.

    2. well I am currently working on a film that really highlights social injustice, but I need to wait at least six years so it will be absolutely useless, apart from the fact that is that I can milk all the plaudits, basically taking a shit on those that went through it.
      Then after that I hope to go on a blog and shit of someone that highlights that.

      But hey dont let that stop you from 'contributing' to society by sitting in your job you're no good at moaning about the failed unions. good job

  5. Straying a bit, but HMP Oakwood reports an outbreak of Novo virus and TB this week.
    HMP Lincoln today is in lock down with an outbreak of Leigonaires desease.
    HMP Altcourse is also in lock down because a prisoner has died after falling from a landing.

    During a prison debate in the commons today concerns were raised about the state sanitation in prisons. One case was cited as one wing alone having a total of 22 showers being broken long term.
    This is a problem that is known about and transpires that Carillion, holding the prison maintenance contract won't recognise the prison service as it's employer. Their employer they say is the MoJ.
    So if the shower, toilet or anything else is broken, the governor of the prison can't get it fixed without first going through the MoJ who then in turn refer it to Carillion.
    God bless privatisation eh?


    1. Did he fall or was he pushed?
      Prisons are simply not safe and dangerous. Its not a case of if but when you will be assaulted.
      Shouldn't prisoners get a sizable sentence reduction every time they get hurt?