The inevitability of rationing services

Striving for a “perfect” society is rather like punching blancmange for Helen Bonnick

So the latest figures showed an 8 per cent rise in street crime. A friend assures me that street crime is relatively easy to combat. The police know who is committing it, where and when. You just have to flood the relevant streets with police at the right time and suddenly the figures are down.

It is no surprise then that this rise coincides with the end of the prime minister’s personal initiative. Now the money and the personnel are needed elsewhere. It’s like – a wonderfully descriptive phrase I heard recently – punching blancmange.

We seem to have got ourselves into a position where we are constantly punching blancmange – where the items we want exceed the money in our pocket.

As one of the world’s most developed nations we expect that we should all benefit from advances in medical science and drug treatments, a decent quality of housing, clean water available at all times and an uninterrupted supply of fuel.

We abhor the idea that children are neglected, abused or living in poverty. We are appalled by vulnerable people suffering at the hands of their carers. And we generally agree that it should be possible to catch criminals and stop them doing it again.

Listed like that it all sounds very reasonable. The problem is, what sort of shortfall are we prepared to accept? After the failure to meet the target for reducing child poverty, there are serious doubts about the feasibility of eradicating it completely.

Bovvered? Yes. Surprised? No. Do we really think it is possible, even with the most stringent restructuring and rationalisation programmes, to create a “perfect” society? Will we accept “mostly good”? If it was our child, or our grandmother we would be jumping up and down in their defence, so whose are we prepared to sacrifice?

We do know, often, what works and how we can combat many of our difficulties. We have made huge leaps in understanding and technology across the board. But department fights department for the same pot of money, tabloid newspapers ask the questions we are all trying to avoid, and still the interviewees on Radio 4’s Today programme refuse to talk about rationing. The blancmange is looking very messy.

Helen Bonnick is a supervisor of school-home support workers and a social worker

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