Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg

Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg
Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg © Gernot Keller, 2007
Blinkered Justice articles also appear on CrimeTalk and Government In The Lab

Monday, 27 June 2011

Pensions and pensioners: when I'm 67...70...73

The following article has been republished in full from The Pryer as the original has been archived on an old server and is no longer available. This article was originally published in June 2011. 

(c) Roger Griffith
In the second of my series of articles looking at pensions, retirement and beyond, this post will look at issues relating to the care of pensioners.  Care can take place at home or in a care home, and affects pensioners who are fit and well and those suffering from age associated conditions. Caring for the elderly affects the person being cared for, carers, family, businesses, regulators and the state. With reports of the recent scandal at Winterbourne, the financial crisis at Southern Cross and stories of abuse elsewhere, “care” is big news.

The NHS reform bill deals with reforming social care services in the UK, as well as restructuring the NHS more generally. As well as setting out organisational changes to the health care system, the bulk of the bill deals with the “economic regulation of health and adult social care services”. Issues such as competition, licensing and pricing are at the heart of these reforms. 

I am aware that the bill has been sent back to MPs to scrutinise, but I find it faintly disturbing that ideas of public well-being and care appear virtually redundant. Given that many of us need and use the NHS, at least those without access to private healthcare, why does a focus on public well-being and care appear less relevant than competition, licensing and pricing?

Ministers claim that the NHS needs to be more accountable to the public. I do not subscribe to this view. NHS stands for National Health Service; therefore, the NHS needs to be public welfare-centric. It is the government that needs to be more accountable to the public. The government has “responsibilised” all of us over the last couple of decades, so that we now spend our own money helping the state finance practices that it used to manage. 

Perhaps it is now time for the government to “responsibilise” itself, and let us know in detail exactly how much of each of our taxes and national insurance is spent on the public services we finance.

The leading age-related charity, Age UK,  have responded to the proposed health reforms on their website thus:
“We welcome the current pause in the Health Bill’s progress through Parliament as we want to ensure that the needs of older people will be better met under any new framework than they are at the moment. 
Older people are by far the biggest users of the NHS, yet they often experience a second rate service which does not meet their needs. We are working with the Government to try and change that in future.”
This statement re-focuses the debate; pensioners are the biggest users of the NHS and they often receive a second-rate service.  This is further exacerbated by a recent inquiry into home care of older people by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).  A full report by the EHRC is due out in November. The main findings of this inquiry reveal that:
·        home care visits are often limited to just 15 minutes;
·        pensioners have little to no time over controlling when homecare visits take place;
·        inadequate homecare is being provided;
·        lack of staff training and awareness;
·        high homecare staff turnover;
·        lack of complaints and low expectations.

Many of these businesses have their own agendas. Based on the EHRC inquiry, it is obviously not the care of their patients, or customers/consumers/clients, that top their agendas. For pensioners, homecare is supposed to promote independence and dignity, yet the service that they are receiving is seriously undermining these notions. They do not know who to complain to if they receive bad service, and/or they fear repercussions if they make a complaint. 

It is widely acknowledged that pensioners are already amongst the more vulnerable groups in society. So whilst the government makes a significant saving outsourcing this service to profiteering providers, they do so, harming those whose interests the NHS is supposed to protect. This is inexcusable behaviour on the part of the government and its partners in crime.

Excellent care home (c) Graham Horn [CC-BY-SA-2.0]
The EHRC report also makes it clear that care staff lack support. A high turnover in staff indicates an unhappy workforce. The evidence suggests that care staff are subject to a form of corporate abuse; they lack sufficient training to carry out their role properly, and are asked to deal with their patients in the shortest time possible. 

So whilst media reports, such as those linked above, rightly make a noise about the abuse that carers dish out, equally we should be informed of the difficulties that care staff endure. I am not condoning what has happened recently, but I am suggesting that this kind of behaviour is embedded in the culture of businesses whose concern is for profit, rather than care.

The Telegraph recently reported that the Care Quality Commission (CQC), who regulate the care services, rate more privately owned care homes as poor/adequate than those run by non-profit organisations or local authorities.

According to The Telegraph and the BBC, the CQC, funded by the Department of Health, are operating within financial constraints imposed by the government last year. Ostensibly, the problems appear to be that there are too few inspectors to ensure that care homes are meeting the required standards. Consequently, fewer inspections are taking place. One inspector who spoke to The Telegraph anonymously said:
“Fundamentally, it’s now got to a point of being dangerous (for residents) – and it’s going to get worse,” (…) “If I had a relative who needed to go to a care service, I’d be concerned.
Inspectors at the CQC and the Department of Health appear to disagree as to who is to blame for the recent care home abuses. Whilst they scrap over responsibility, care homes are being closed down. This further destabilises the lives of the elderly. Not only have they been subject to harm on a personal level, they are now having to endure further injury at an structural level. This is governmental and commercial negligence.

Unfortunately, I have omitted other forms of care in this article, such as that provided by family members looking after loved ones at home (sorry mum). Whilst adult social care services patently need amending, there is little evidence that proposed NHS reforms will address any of the problems inherent in the current system. 

The vast majority of the cabinet (18 millionaires?), as well as those with significant means of their own, will not likely use or need the NHS in their dotage. Luckily for them, they will not have to suffer the injustices meted out by individuals, business or the state.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Pensions and pensioners: when I’m 64…65…66…

The following article has been republished in full from The Pryer as the original has been archived on an old server and is no longer available. This article was originally published in June 2011. 

Chelsea pensioners
As the person most likely to reach this age the soonest on The Pryer team, I bestowed it upon myself to write a series of articles on pensions, retirement and beyond. This first article will focus on the government’s recent announcement on proposed changes to the pensions system, and its advice to take out some form of pension provision to cover the costs of retirement.
First off, I would like to point out that the government is still conducting a review into the proposed changes to the pension scheme. But only for a couple more days, so get your ideas and comments in now. This is your future.
The main issues with the current state pension are alleged to be:
§         The complexity and uncertainty of outcomes in the state pension – makes it difficult for people to know what they will get when they retire, meaning it is more difficult to plan and save for retirement.
§          High levels of means testing – can deter people from saving as the incentives are not sufficiently clear and too many pensioners are forced to rely on Pension Credit to top up their income. Around a third of pensioners do not claim the Pension Credit they are entitled to.
§          Significant inequality remains in the system – groups such as women, the low paid and the self-employed tend to have lower state pensions.

In the foreword, Steve Webb, Minister of State for Pensions writes:
“The complexity of the current state pension is a major barrier to saving. It means that few people have a clear idea of what their state pension will be worth when they retire. Not only that, the current system actually discourages saving, because the extent of reliance on means testing means that people cannot be sure they will benefit from the savings they put aside”.
On page 20, there are four quotations, two of which are not referenced, that speak of a pensions system that is “complicated” and “confusing”. No mention is made of savings. I wonder how many of you have considered not saving, purely because you were unclear about the pensions system. Did the complexity of the system discourage you from putting money into a saving account? Or, once you have found employment, are you trying to make ends meet, paying tuition fees, mortgage/rent, council tax, utilities, public transport costs etc.?
In terms of reform for a future state pensions system, the Government has four guiding principles including personal responsibility, fairness, simplicity, affordability and sustainability. I am going to focus on the principle of fairness, described as follows:
§          fairness – ensuring an adequate level of support for the most vulnerable, ensuring everyone with a full contribution record should be entitled to a state pension above the standard level of means tested support, and ensuring all groups are treated fairly.

Scottish Widows HQ (c) Qualit-E
Two weeks ago, The Guardian,  referred to a Scottish Widows report that states that half of the UK population are not putting sufficient funds aside for their retirement. According to this report, someone saving adequately for their retirement needs to put aside 12% of their salary.  On a salary of £20,000 per year, this equates to saving £2,400 of that annual salary (£200 per calendar month). Those earning between £30,000 and £50,000 are said to be preparing best for retirement, whilst high-income groups (above £50,000) are less focused. 

Although it is not clear why, I am assuming that higher earners have their funds invested elsewhere (e.g. property, ISAs). True, an assumption only, but if you had a significant amount of cash put to one side for your retirement, would you invest it in a company run by Lloyds Banking Group? For that matter, would you invest in any pensions company, given the Equitable Life debacle and concerns with defined benefit pension schemes? What this indicates is that those who are better off are more able to afford a private pension, or use other means of saving for their retirements. Does this subscribe to the guiding principle of fairness?
A key part of future pension schemes is the implementation of automatic enrolment and the National Employment Savings Trust (NEST). Those who earn between £10,001 and £30,000 a year, and whose employer has fewer than 25 staff, are a key target group for NEST, with only 11% expected to opt out of this scheme. The 21% who remain undecided, and the 68% who are currently sure, may yet change their minds if government cuts bite deeper still, and they can not afford substantial monthly payments. By targeting those who earn less, the government are failing to tackle issues of unfairness.
I note that the Scottish Widows conducted their research through YouGov. In other words, their respondents need access to the internet, which itself, is linked to socio-economic and demographic determinants including age, disability and location. Many government services are now only available online; this consultation process relies heavily on the citizen accessing this information online. In the UK, over 8.7 million adults have never used the internet, with the disabled populace accounting for almost half of that figure. In terms of the pensions discourse, is it fair to further exclude those who are already marginalised?
Returning to the Department of Works and Pensions report, increased life expectancy is cited as being a major contributory factor in the state’s inability to provide adequate pension cover.  However, whilst the government quotes life expectancy rates as rising, life expectancy hits different groups differentially; the better off you are, the more like you are to live longer and vice-versa. Those earning less have less time to “enjoy” their retirement. Fair?
The state pensions options considered in this report have their pros and cons according to its authors. There are alternatives to these options, such as those founded on ideas of social capital, which, given the Conservative party’s manifesto, I am surprised they have not made more use of. Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrat party’s manifesto talked of reducing public spending to the tune of £100 billion by not replacing the Trident nuclear weapons system. Surely that would be a saving that we could all afford; as terrorism is classed as the most significant security threat, and that terrorist cells operate in the UK, I would hope that we would not consider nuking ourselves.
Recent news reports on the changes to women's pensions further highlight the unfairness of the proposed state pension system. This article demonstrates how this new system is founded upon the same injustices and how it will replicate them. Therefore, it fails to meet the government's stated guiding principle of fairness.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Fundraising (mal)practices

© Dr Barnados Homes
Yes, it has been some time.  My apologies for the delay in the next instalment.

I am returning with a story that I have had some personal experience of. Recently, I received a telephone call from a well-known charity asking me to increase my monthly donation. Despite explaining my personal circumstances, the fundraisers, whom I am assuming are the charity’s partners, ignored what I was telling them and continued to badger me for extra monies. My over-riding feeling following this phone call was a desire to withdraw my support; I have not done so. This was the second time that I have been pestered by a well-known charity in the exact same manner.

Third Force News report that fundraising complaints rose in 2010, following a report by the Fundraising Standards Board (FRSB). As one might imagine of an industry that regulates itself, the report lacks any real substance. It uses figures and percentages to sustain its findings, without offering much in the way of further insight. Whilst it notes the increased volume of complaints, it explains it away as being due to an increase in membership to the FRSB over the same period. Approximately 196 charities joined the FRSB during 2010, an increase of 21%. Yet, complaint levels rose by 66% overall. Therefore, there appears to be a threefold increase in the number of complaints that has not been explained adequately.

Compared to the number of complaints made in 2008, this years increase is another step in the wrong direction.  The main fundraising complaints (addressed direct mail, telephone, doorstep face to face) have increased significantly (279%) in the last 2 years. The FRSB report would benefit from explanations regarding how the figures were collated, what proportion of complaints were dealt at source etc. It should also consider including forms of qualitative evidence, in the form of charity fundraisers, and their customers comments, that might add further insight into the types of problems that they face.  

At the end of last year, David Robinson, a proponent of David Cameron’s “big society”, warned that government cuts to voluntary sector budgets would lead to welfare problems:

“Next year those who need our services – many amongst the most vulnerable in the country – will need them more. The expenditure cuts are a double whammy in communities like ours, increasing unemployment (the public sector is the biggest local employer) and closing services at the same time”.  
 “Without buildings, leadership, training, and support we can’t grow our “little platoons” quickly enough to fill the gaps. Indeed we won’t even be able to sustain them at their current level. Cuts in public expenditure in many areas of our work, coupled with major changes in Legal Aid and New Deal mean most of our budget for 2011/2012 is at risk. Ultimately this will diminish our community not make it stronger.”

Whilst these comments post-date what appears to have been taking place in the voluntary sector, it is a concern. If charities with larger budgets have already been targeting ordinary members of the public in a cold-calling, hard-sell fashion, then surely we can only expect to hear more from them over the next few years, when government cuts hits deeper. I understand the voluntary sector's need to secure private, as well as corporate funding.  However, it is obvious that they have outsourced this part of the business to private companies who have little/no interest in the aims of the charity that they represent. 

Charities serve a vital purpose, providing support to those in need. However, if the purpose of charity is to provide welfare support, the voluntary sector needs to re-assess how best to ensure continued help from members of the public; if they pursue their current fundraising practices, alienating those who donate is likely to cause further social harm rather than relieve it.

If anyone has been affected by questionable charitable fundraising techniques, then I would like to hear from you. Please either contact me by email, or leave your comments below. 
Enhanced by Zemanta

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Throw away the key: serial offending in the UK

The following article has been republished in full from The Pryer as the original has been archived on an old server and is no longer available. This article was originally published in June 2011. 

(c) Lionel Allorge

The Telegraph published an article yesterday, claiming that serial offenders are far less likely to be jailed than they were a decade ago. Other newspapers, including The Daily Express, have also been berating a criminal justice system, that they claim is soft and operating a revolving door policy.

I have downloaded the latest Ministry of Justice bulletin. Pages 68-69 contain the following information on offending histories:

Just over half of offenders who committed indictable offences and were cautioned in 2010 had no previous criminal history, although 3% had 15 or more previous cautions/convictions:
  • 54.1% of offenders of all ages who received a reprimand, warning or caution for an indictable offence in 2010 had no previous offences;
  • 3.2% of offenders had received a reprimand, warning, caution or conviction on 15 or more previous occasions. The majority of these offenders received a reprimand, warning or caution for drug offences and theft and handling stolen goods offences; 
  • The equivalent figures for the year 2000 show that the criminal history profile of cautioned offenders is changing over time: 67.3% had no previous offences while 1.3% had 15 or more previous occasions.
The criminal history profile of sentenced offenders is also changing over time. More offenders sentenced for indictable offences in 2010 had previous offences, and a higher proportion of offenders had 15 or more previous convictions or cautions:
  • the proportion of all offenders sentenced for indictable offences who had 15 or more previous convictions or cautions has increased steadily from 16.8% in 2000 to 28.9% in 2010; 
  • Over the same period the proportion of sentences given to offenders with no previous convictions or cautions fell from 12.3% to 10.5%. 
The criminal history of offenders receiving different sentences varies by sentence, with custodial sentences associated with higher levels of previous offences, in 2010:
  • 43% of adult offenders receiving custodial sentences have 15 or more previous convictions/cautions.
  • 27% of adult offenders receiving a fine have 15 or more previous convictions/cautions
A-Block at Alcatraz (c) Nonie
In his column, Tom Whitehead repeatedly refers to “hardened offenders” as those being cautioned or avoiding custody. I understand the need to sell papers and online advertising, but the sensationalist use of “hardened offenders” is somewhat different to the offenders identified above. Moreover, the report indicates that serial offenders are getting their ‘just desserts’ and only a minority are getting away with it. The article is clearly geared towards a more punitive idea of justice. Yet punitive measures, such as imprisonment, are clearly not working if criminals re-offend. Fifteen or more times.
Based at Kings College, the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies estimate that the annual cost of keeping someone imprisoned is £38,000.There have been several studies conducted on public opinion and sentencing policy. Many indicate that the public are less inclined to seek a custodial sentence when other factors are known.
Roberts and Hough (2011) have recently published an article that explores under what circumstances the British public would opt for an alternative community penalty over imprisonment as punishment. They found that many respondents considered community punishment sufficient, even for relatively serious offences. Along with knowing the financial costs of a custodial sentence, consideration of an individual's circumstances and a thorough understanding of the non-custodial option were determining factors that altered these participants’ perceptions of sentencing.

The Conservative government are right to look anew at sentencing. However, they need to balance a whole range of issues that take into account the rights of the victim(s) and their families, and the rights and circumstances of the accused.