I remember the old TV programmes, where at Christmas they’d visit people such as lighthouse keepers and commiserate with them over having to spend the holiday all alone away from home. You’d think that if someone had decided to make this their vocation, programme makers might have realised that it was solitude they wanted, rather being 24-hour party people! Anyway “personed” lighthouses have long since disappeared, so the Noel Edmonds of the world have had to look elsewhere – not least social care residential institutions. There, in a spirit of false and glutinous bonhomie, we can celebrate the festive season with people who at all other times of the year are kept well apart from the rest of us.
Which brings me neatly to charities. They have made Christmas their own, with special appeals, events and tin rattling, neatly timed to hit the season of giving and goodwill. Now I am not saying that their campaigns for “the homeless”, “the poor” and “the third world” are misguided or unhelpful. But I am increasingly concerned that there is a new cause to which inadequate attention is being paid.
What’s worrying me is the increasing emphasis on the part of government – and let’s be honest – service users themselves, on independent living, self-directed-support, choice and control. This new push in policy has been rushed forward without necessarily taking proper account of some of the damaging, albeit unintended, consequences it may have. What are the implications likely to be for the big charities and their hierarchies of middle and senior managers, let alone corps of glitzy events organisers, fundraisers, PR people, general schmoozers and the rest? What will happen to them if all the sad cases get up, walk, and say they don’t need their help any more?
So I say, service users, stop talking about getting support, education, jobs, relationships and a life. Have some sense of responsibility! Your donation could help keep a £120k chief executive off the benefit queues and safeguard their mortgage. Rather than seek debt advice, widows can chip to make it possible for a legacy expert to meet Bono. Remember, service users, as you have always said, they wouldn’t have jobs without you! Do you really want to put those careers at risk? Dig deep if you want things to stay as they are – it’s Christmas!
Peter Beresford, professor of social policy at Brunel University, chair of Shaping Our Lives, the national service-user controlled organisation and network, and a user of mental health services