I prefer to think of social workers as “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” of the spaghetti western that is social care. They are “good” when they’re supporting you to access the resources and rights you require; they’re “bad” when downgrading you from 24/7 assistance to two hours’ home care a week; and they’re downright “ugly” when their huge Clint Eastwood smiles disguise the reality that they are little more than the sheriff of bankrupt budgets.
My latest community care review was a showdown – a gun-slinging, pistol-packing shootout till death (or until next year when
we have to go through the same charade of my social worker reviewing whether I’m still alive, still disabled and still in need of their resources).
As the sheriff walked down the road, it was clear from the cowboy boots and stetson that she wasn’t from these parts. In fact, she was yet another Antipodean job bank social worker waiting for something more permanent to come along.
As Tesco carrier bags tumbleweeded across her path, the net curtains were twitching as the other residents of the Dodge City state looked on anxiously in case she was there to take away their kids, reduce their care packages or section them. They knew from experience that once you’ve been lassooed by the sheriff, you’ll never escape from the corral.
I sat waiting anxiously. I was wearing a pair of chaps (with no backs to these leather trousers, they are in fact an excellent accessible clothing option), a checked shirt, a necktie and I had a blanket over my legs. To stop the sheriff withdrawing services, I needed her to see me as pitiful, pathetic and unfashionable – thankfully the crippled cowgirl look seemed to achieve this.
The sheriff pushed through the door as though she owned this saloon, greeted me with her Aussie lilt and sat down. Without
warning, she reached into her holster and brought out her pen. As she noted down each decision, stereotype and judgement
about me, I was wounded. I wasn’t quick enough to retaliate that my condition had deteriorated since the previous review, I
didn’t manage to fire the bullets of community care law at her and I was too injured to shoot back that I still qualified for the highest eligibility banding.
The sheriff looked at me, flashed that Eastwood smile and then put the independent living noose around my neck. No more
living in the community for me; this cowgirl is heading for Boot Hill or as it’s more commonly known, residential care.
As a disabled person, I find that our relationships are often misunderstood. Take two of mine:
My personal assistant is a bloke who helps me dress, shave and get around. My wife is the woman who gives me love, support and regular hot sex! Now I don’t want these two relationships to get mixed up. Yet the same bloody word, “care”, is always used to describe them both.
But don’t get me wrong – my objection to this word has nothing to do with political correctness, since the concept of care pretty much underpins the whole social work profession. However I feel it feeds into and perpetuates the myth that we disabled people need looking after, supervising and protecting. In essence what’s being implied is that we’re not in control of our own lives. After all, the other large section of our society whom we “care” for are children.
A social service which had the aim of enabling disabled people to fulfil their potential would focus on independent living, not the paternalistic notion of community care. With this in mind, nowadays I like to play a little game whenever I have to go through a community care assessment. In the past, all I’d get from my social worker was something along the lines of: “Blah, blah, blah, care, blah, blah, care plan, blah, blah, blah, blah, carer.”
It was as if someone had bet them that they couldn’t mention “care” at least twice in every sentence. I’ve even had a go at this myself and it’s no mean feat, although I suppose it takes three years of rigorous social work training to become really good at it.
So to really bamboozle them, I tell my social worker at the start of our meeting that they are not to use the four-letter “c” word in my assessment as I find it offensive.
What happens next is brilliant entertainment. All of a sudden they become completely robbed of the power to communicate, cautiously having to think about each and every word. The upshot of all this is they’ll readily agree to whatever I want in order to get the meeting over and done with as quickly as possible.
My brother is a social worker. By a twist of fate he got a job at our London borough where we lived before he became the duty officer for our area. If I’d mistreated my children they’d have sent him round to stop me doing what he did to me for 15 years.
Apart from family, my first contact with social services was being assessed for a Freedom Pass (entitles disabled Londoners to travel free on public transport) by Hammersmith and Fulham. I’ve found the process for the passes can be expedited if I wear the strange-looking anorak I’ve had for too many years and talk over whatever the man is saying by shouting, “The form? You want me to fill in the form?” I tend to be seen to and on my way quite quickly.
I’m now lucky to live in a borough where they have a dedicated team for people with hearing problems and the first time I visited them I left with anorak pockets full of gadgets to help at home, vibrating this and that and flashing bits and pieces, as if I’d been to an Ann Summers party. This stuff is useful, but heavy on the juice and the kids are fed up finding their toys’ batteries have been nicked by daddy for his vibrator.
The pride and joy of my social services is in installing special deaf-person doorbells. They sent Bob round, their top doorbell fitter, who was very nice. But on the day he came round to fit my special doorbell I didn’t yet have a special doorbell and so I didn’t know he was there and he spent ages ringing the old bell without me hearing it. He was really angry and it took a few cups of tea to cheer him up after I eventually let him in. He was lucky I saw him at all, I just happened to check if the post had come. He didn’t laugh when I pointed out the obvious irony of the situation, either, but then again he’d been freezing outside getting doorbell-related RSI and I’d been sitting in the warm watching Cash in the Attic. I suppose that’s the risk you run if your job is to go round fitting doorbells for deaf people.
This article appeared in the 1 November issue under the headline “A funny thing happened”