Cinderella service needs headlines

Yvonne Roberts – Dissatisfied social services
users need the same kind of lobbying power as NHS patients.

The public sector – health, education,
transport but not, as yet, that poor Cinderella, social services –
is suddenly the sexiest subject in politics. Irrespective of what
may or may not have happened to 94-year-old Rose Addis, she has
become a catalyst for renewed arguments about money, reforms,
accountability and improved rules on confidentiality in the

The NHS has suffered from Labour’s freeze on
spending. Lack of investment has bred a management style that
focuses on fulfilling short-term cuts and targets at the price of
long-term efficiency, customer satisfaction, staff retention and
employees’ morale. The same is true for social services.

The Rose Addis case has highlighted something
that is rarely seen in social services: client power. The
equivalent in the social services arena to the furore around the
Addis case is, too often, a murdered child. But where are the
advocates of those denied or offered little support by
overstretched providers?

Compare, for example, last week’s media
coverage of the NHS with the treatment of the recent scandalous
news that Brent Council’s children’s services are worse now than
they were at the time of the Victoria Climbie case. Which newspaper
investigated how representative Brent’s calamitous situation is?
Why no attack from Iain Duncan Smith?

A recent study by the Picker Institute
compared the experience of British NHS patients with those in
Switzerland, Germany, Sweden and the USA. In terms of physical
comfort, co-ordination of care, emotional support and respect for
patients’ preferences, we score far worse than the other

What is required is a similar survey of social
services’ clients detailing those who have had help refused and on
what basis. But then what? The Claimants’ Union operated as a
skilful protagonist for those on benefits because it understood the
importance of accurate information to make politically embarrassing

Perhaps it is time for a new independent
national organisation – one which champions all those in need of
support from the increasingly privatised and selective social

It will be a tough job to ignite debate with
the success that Rose Addis’s family have achieved. But it is not
impossible. All that is required – apart from commitment – is
political skill, good timing and powerful allies. The facts should
speak for themselves.

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