Wednesday, June 01, 2011

No going back to Bedlam

Grace, a 92-year-old lady chained herself to the railings in Llandeilo, a small West Wales town, last Friday in protest at the closure of her lifeline day club – one of five shut down by Carmarthenshire County Council.

“For some of the members, it may be the only time they see or talk to anyone, a place where they can be cared for, for the day,” she said, in her impassioned message to the assembled demonstration. ‘It may also be the only time they get a hot meal, tending not to bother when they are on their own. Isolation can have devastating consequences.’

Councils are closing services across the board, abandoning their users to the already overstretched voluntary sector, and to the private sector. Many more fragile and elderly people can expect the kind of vicious abuse meted out to adults with autism and learning disabilities at a home run by Castlebeck, which has a £90 million turnover and runs more than 50 other care homes.

Arrests have followed the BBC Panorama investigation but that is of little consolation to those who have already suffered at the hands of the company’s staff.

Castlebeck charges the NHS and local authorities up to £3,500 a week to take responsibility – care is too strong a word – for residents. Tory MP Stephen Dorrell, health select committee chair, has the gall to blame public sector staff for failing to supervise the contract properly!

ConDem Chancellor Osborne’s proposed changes to the benefits system imposing an overall cap on payments, and restricting housing benefit, will plunge big families into penury. Poor parents could soon be asked to raise each child on just £3 a day.

The government's changes to the welfare system are already having a "devastating" impact on hundreds of thousands of people with mental health problems and have driven some of the most vulnerable to try to take their own lives, according to charities and medical experts.

A letter published in the Guardian signed by leading mental health charities and a senior consultant from the Royal College of Psychiatrists, states.

We've found that the prospect of incapacity benefit reassessment is causing huge amounts of distress and tragically there have already been cases where people have taken their own life following problems with changes to their benefits.

The word bedlam, meaning uproar and confusion, is derived from the name of the Bethlem Royal Hospital. Now at the forefront of humane psychiatric treatment, for much of its history it was notorious for cruelty and heartless treatment – the epitome of what the term "madhouse" means. We’re not going back to Victorian days, even if that is what the Coalition intends.

To those assembled in Llandeilo, speeches from Plaid Cymru MP Jonathan Edwards and others sounded like an epitaph for the day clubs and other services. But opposition to the cuts in public sector services privatisation and so-called welfare “reform” – read £18 billion reduction in spending – is mounting as the knock-on effects on childcare, housing and local government finance emerge.

Councillors in Wales and the rest of the UK, who falsely claim that their hands are tied by the grants allocated to them, are busy implementing cuts imposed by the ConDem government as it acts to fulfil the needs of a system in crisis, jettisoning everything that stands in the way of profit. As Greece, Ireland, Spain and many other countries head into state bankruptcy, no amount of these or any other destructive “reforms” to social care will be enough to extract the capitalist system from its own programme of intensive treatment.

The costs of fixing the system are beyond endurance. It’s time to move beyond protest, beyond resistance, and bring the whole community together in a network of People’s Assemblies. From Cairo to Madrid and Lambeth in London, these broad-based democratic structures are already beginning the task of constructing a new not-for-profit system that begins and ends with meeting peoples’ needs.

Gerry Gold

Economics editor

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