For Bill Jordan (University of Plymouth), a leading scholar of social policy, the findings of the recent inquiry into standards at Stafford Hospital – described as ‘one of the worst NHS scandals in history’ – offer confirmation of what’s wrong with social policy and its current principles...
My new book was written during the economic crash of 2008-9. It argues for a transformation of our collective life, based on a rejection of the abtract economic model which has penetrated every aspect of our societies.
The helplessness of governments as the crash unfolded, and their subsequent haste in borrowing funds to bail out the banks and mortgage companies, revealed how much of their power they had delegated to these financial intermediaries. But the extent of private debt also showed how the wider public had accepted this process. The book describes how a set of interlocking ideas installed the consuming, choosing, ‘independent’ individual at the base of a pyramid of credit, linked together through contractual relationships.
These notions have gradually usurped other political and moral principles and social bonds, to supply the rationale for all activities and organizations. As they have insinuated themselves into collective life, other cultural resources have decayed; increasingly we define who we are and what we do in terms of this model.
The worst consequences of these processes were publicized last week in the report on the scandal of perhaps 1,000 avoidable deaths at the Mid-Staffordshire NHS Hospital Trust. It described the humiliation and neglect that had become routine elements in patients’ experiences, as staff ignored their pleas for help, and managers focused on government targets and efficiency savings. Almost the worst feature of the scandal was that the Trust was granted lucrative and prestigious Foundation status during this process, as complaints from patients and their relatives were brushed aside.
In social policy, the edifice of regulation, accreditation, measurement, performance and delivery has been tailored to the economic model, often at the expense of a culture of care, respect and recognition. Part of the solution lies in restoring standards of empathy and judgement in practice; another part in making services truly accountable to the public.
More fundamentally, social policy should seek to build a social infrastructure in which people experience themselves as equal and participating members of society, as a collective body with shared purposes and ideals. The public services should be central to this project.
What’s Wrong with Social Policy and How to Fix It has just been released, and offers a diagnosis of, and suggested cures for, growing inequalities in society, failures in our social services, increases in a wide range of social problems, and public disillusion over the effectiveness of policy programmes.