Adrian Roper is the chair of Learning Disability Wales, the CEO of Cartrefi Cymru, and one of our Associate Directors. He’s also a seriously good bloke with a positive outlook on life. But that positivity is under threat from the market, from what our health Minister calls ‘the commodification of care’.
“As I sit here now, reflecting on the way the world of learning disability services is going, it is a little depressing to see the roots of so much that is wrong now flowing from the heady days of the 1980s. It was then that the seeds of a ‘market-place’ for social care were planted as a Thatcherite Welsh Office vigorously promoted the out-sourcing of learning disability services. At the time, only not-for-profit agencies were put forward as the alternative to state provision. Little did we know that we were clearing a path for private capital to stride down later.
A few years later we started to see services for people with learning disabilities being re-tendered. For some not-for-profits, sadly, the opportunity to play the new competition game was irresistible and the first casualty was support workers’ pay. The market-place had arrived, in all its destructive, impoverishing glory, without even a whiff of private capital. When the purchasers decided to make providers fight for survival, they also brought poison into the heart of the not-for-profit sector. Then they and others could point and say: “I told you so! All they care about is their own self-interest! Don’t talk to them!”
Now, instead of purchasers we have procurers: hundreds and hundreds of them, overseeing tendering processes so as to ensure that the “rules” are followed to the letter, whilst the rights of citizens go out the window, and the stability of trusted provider relationships goes out the window, and the chance of a living wage for workers goes out the window, and even the professional judgement of social service departments goes out the window, whilst the ultimate winner is set to be the private capitalist who buys up, cleans up, sells up and re-banks the profits in Guernsey or Switzerland.”
Just before you sink in to a slough of despond, you’ll be relieved to hear that there is some good news…
We have an anti-privatisation government in Wales, we have “a new Social Services Act which places a duty on local government to promote organisations with a public service oriented constitution, such as user-led agencies, social co-operatives, voluntary associations, and social enterprises. It doesn’t outlaw for-profit agencies in social care which, in the interests of freedom, is probably fair enough. But it does not recommend them at all, and there is music in this silent omission. And there is a growing movement in support of co-production and co-operation.
These ideas are about talking with each other. Being open. Earning mutual trust. Creating long-term relationships that can help us during the hard times. Making the world better for ourselves and all our fellow citizens. This is what we want, isn’t it? Thank goodness, in Wales, there are many who will answer that question with a strong Yes. Political leaders, senior officers, commissioners, policy advisors, consultants, support workers, and an army of citizens. We must all speak up, and be counted. We must take on the challenges: the misguided and risk-averse, who insist on destructive tendering procedures; the self-interested, who hanker for opportunities to make more riches; and all the rest.
Challenges? No problem. If the good people of Wales collaborate in earnest, pursuing mutual benefit in our communities and our counties, the future for people with learning disabilities and for all of us, as our parents become frail, and our own old age approaches, can be contemplated with real hope.”
We’re right with you Adrian!
The full article can be accessed on our website via this link.