Three stories have hogged the headlines recently: television’s
Big Brother, human resources problems at the Football
Association, and Iraq and “the war on terror”. Appalling suffering
in Sudan has yet to secure a podium place.
What do these three have in common, and why might they interest us
here? Try sex. It’s been a humiliating weapon against Iraqi
prisoners of war, a ratings weapon for Channel Four’s BB, and a
seeming motivation for our football supremos. But maybe it’s not
sex this time. Maybe it’s the way these stories spotlight how often
people in our world are still held in unequal and exploitative
What else explains why bosses in a semi-official organisation such
as the FA still seem to think it’s OK to treat secretaries as sex
toys? Why else would we tolerate programmes that push people to
perform like circus animals? What would get me watching and voting
is seeing the well-heeled public schoolboys and girls in charge of
companies such as Endemol put through their paces. Their eviction I
would enjoy. That’s what I’d call reality TV. Then of course,
there’s the war on terror that daily ratchets up individual
anxieties and public fear of the Muslim “enemy within”. This
process operates in parallel with the “peace” in Iraq that’s
causing far more deaths than the war it was meant to end.
Yes, our three headline-huggers are all about exploitative and
abusive relationships. This may be where their link with health and
welfare lies. Historically, these issues have often been based on
unequal and disempowering relationships: between professionals and
public, management and workforce, institutions and inmates. And
some of the poorest employment conditions, and biggest failures to
safeguard civil rights, are still to be seen in social care and the
lives of its service users.
But the recognition has been growing that this inequality must
change. Policy documents such as Valuing People, the extension of
disability discrimination legislation, and minister Stephen
Ladyman’s current search for a “new vision for social care” are
some of the signs of this process. Social care has a track record
of accepting difference and challenging discrimination. Maybe the
wider world could take a leaf out of this book.
Perhaps it’s time for military, political and media leaders to
learn the lesson that degrading and demeaning people may offer
short-term profits, gains and successes, but in the long term the
chickens do come home to roost.