This week I was reading the latest ‘Love, Belief and Balls’ blog from Mark Neary. As usual it was maddening, deeply saddening and laugh out loud funny in equal measure.
Mark and his son Steven are constantly battling the dead hand of a (vindictive) bureaucracy that appears entirely incapable of viewing either of them as human, let alone one which respects their relationship as father and son.
Mark’s most potent weapon in this battle is love. Love shines through his writing and casts a bright light on the injustices being served by Hillingdon Council. Mark’s love combines with the talent of Mark as a writer to convey the most technical or prosaic of issue – issues frequently dressed up by others in professional jargon and policy wonkishness – in strictly human terms.
Mark’s blogs always contain a (often hilarious) vignette about something Steven has said or done. On the one hand this is merely a proud doting father sharing his pride and love with the world. But it also provides a line of defence in a world which does not respect Steven’s humanity nor that of his father or their relationship with one another. In this sense it reminds me of the time that (Baroness) Jane Campbell’s husband, having discovered an unauthorised ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ notice at the end of his wife’s hospital bed, rushed home and returned with a photograph of Jane at her graduation ceremony, saying to the Doctors ‘this is the person in the bed!’
What links the experiences and cases of Mark and Steven Neary, Jane Campbell, Winterbourne View and neglect in parts of the NHS is the absence of humanity and love in the way public services are organised and delivered.
· Where people become liabilities to be managed, not lives to be respected, public services fail and people suffer.
· Where people are treated as units to be processed, not humans to be nourished, public services fail and people suffer.
· Where people are not regarded as having lives worth saving let alone lives considered worth living public services fail and people suffer.
· Where the quest to provide care is supplanted by the search for ‘storage solutions’ public services fail and people suffer.
· Where love and humanity becomes the stuff of regulation rather than everyday culture, public services fail and people suffer.
And yet what also unites these cases is the fact that they were only exposed because of the humanity and love of relatives, advocates, friends and whistle-blowers.
William McPherson labelled the Metropolitan Police ‘institutionally racist’ following his inquiry into the botched investigation into the murder of Stephen Lawrence. The racist actions of individual police officers could not be treated as isolated incidents but stemmed from culture, policy and practices which were deeply ingrained in the way the Met conducted itself. We need to understand and deal with the problems in our care system in a similar way rather than trying only to point the blame at the individual actors involved in one incident or another.
The problem may manifest in different ways but it all stems from the same fundamental deficit of respect for the humanity of those requiring or using services.
This is not simply a question for politicians or for those involved in providing or regulating public services. Public services are an expression of our commitment to one another as a society.
If we want to stop our public services lurching from one scandal to the next, our best line of defence is love.