Heroes and villains of 2008

As the pantomime season gets underway we asked Community Care contributors and prominent social care figures to reveal their Peter Pans and Captain Hooks of 2008


Jeremy Vine, presenter of Panorama and his own BBC Radio 2 show and host of Community Care LIVE’s Question Time

My hero is John Sergeant. He was my boss at BBC Westminster in the 1990s when he was tremendously serious. He did a brilliant job of trying to get all the judges sacked from Strictly Come Dancing – and danced in a preposterous way. It confirmed the marginalisation of experts in our society, the consequences of which need more thought from all of us.

Sarah Mitchell, director of community services, Isle of Wight Council

My hero is the captain of my hovercraft – not exclusively mine obviously. He gets me to work every day through bumpy seas avoiding battleships and dinghies along the way. Many people comment on my journey to work on a hover but what a way to start and finish the day – sunrise/set on the beach.

Anthony Douglas, chief executive, Cafcass

My heroes are everybody at Time for Change, learning disability trainers from Cornwall, who have learning disabilities themselves. They have lectured as far as Hawaii, and show what unleashing potential can do.

Villains are the columnists who gratuitously slate social care and social work at every cheap opportunity, pouring scorn on the way thousands of vulnerable people in the UK are supported in ways the rest of the world can mostly only wonder at.

Gary Vaux, head of money advice at Hertfordshire Council and Community Care’s welfare rights columnist

My hero has to be footballer William Gallas, ex-captain of Arsenal, when he spilled the beans about the atmosphere in the Arsenal changing room. He just pipped Spurs boss Harry “Houdini” Redknapp for the award.

My villain is David Freud, investment banker and descendant of Sigmund, who has brought his vast knowledge of social security to the job of special adviser to the secretary of state for works and pensions. Obviously, ignoring recent minor events such as total economic meltdown, investment bankers have such a strong understanding of sound financial management that they are naturally equipped to advise ministers about benefits.

Stewart Greenwell, president of ADSS Cymru

Gavin and Stacey (BBC comedy) are my heroes for bringing a smile to people’s faces and putting Barry Island on the map. My villains are anyone who disputes the significance of the Welsh language in Wales – it provides strong cultural foundations and reminds the people of Wales of their history.

Ray Jones, professor of social work at Kingston University and St George’s, University of London and former social services director60x60

The vicious villain is Rebekah Wade, editor of The Sun, whose verbal violence and vitriolic vilification of social workers may disastrously lead to children in the future being less safe.

And hero Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee who has stood up against The Sun’s lynch mobs.

Paul Lewis, presenter of Money Box on BBC Radio 4 and Community Care’s financial columnist

You only really know who has done well years after they did it. So my hero for 2008 is the Liberal MP Herbert Asquith who was prime minister 100 years ago. He introduced the pension to parliament on 7 May 1908 and the first state pension – five shillings (25p) a week – was paid on 1 January 1909.

Today 12.5 million people receive the pension and it has been a cornerstone of the income of everyone in Britain when they retire. Hooray for the foresight of Herbert Henry Asquith.

Rather than pick out one villain, let’s give the honour collectively to the banks. Early in the year they went to court to get a ruling that their overdraft charges do not have to be fair. When they lost they embarked on an expensive appeal which is still unresolved. More recently they have refused to pass on cuts in interest rates – despite up to £500bn of public money being made available to solve their problems – and rejected calls to share the blame for lending too much money to people who cannot now afford to pay it back. Booooo!

Michael Fitzpatrick, a GP in Hackney and Community Care health columnist

My hero is TalkSport radio presenter Jon Gaunt who was sacked over his condemnation of local councillors’ authoritarian and offensive plan to ban parents who smoke from fostering or adopting children.

My villain prize goes to David Rogers of the Local Government Association and Tam Fry of the Obesity Forum for their coercive call for overweight children to be subjected to child protection procedures.

Simon Heng, wheelchair user, involved in service user groups and Community Care columnist

My hero for 2008 – and for most years – is my sister, Kim Heng. She’s a headteacher in a primary school in one of the most deprived areas of Sandwell. She does without a school secretary so that she can plough more of the budget into resources for the school, works an 18-hour day, is a successful single parent of two great children, and still manages to have a sense of humour.

My villain is Simon Cowell. He has turned Saturday night television into a freak show, using the most vulnerable people as cheap entertainment.

John Cossham, Community Care’s ethical living expert

My hero has come up with a flexible community-based solution called Transition Towns. Rob Hopkins started the movement in Kinsale, Ireland, and then took it to the small community of Totnes which was ripe for a town-wide attempt to prepare for the twin threats of climate change and peak oil. To take this forward more widely, Hopkins has written The Transition Handbook which was a huge success this year.

My villain is Robert Mugabe. I visited Zimbabwe in 1990 and found it a beautiful country with fantastic people.

The sham elections in March and the beatings meted out to the opposition show the lengths the regime will go to retain power.

Peter Beresford, chair of Shaping Our Lives and professor of social policy, Brunel University

My hero is Doug Paulley, a disabled man who lives in residential care and who will not be known by most readers. He has consistently fought for his own and other people’s rights in and beyond residential care, taking on big organisations such as Leonard Cheshire Disability. Long may he do so in the cause of control, choice and independent living.

The ones that have really bugged me over 2008 are the people who talk user involvement, while making every possible effort to tokenise, undermine and invalidate it. No need to name names. You know who you are. And so do service users.

Gary Fitzgerald, chief executive of Action on Elder Abuse

My heroes have got to be Mr P and Mrs S who persevered in their complaints against South Tyneside Council, despite the extreme harassment they were suffering in their sheltered housing complex. Although the council systems failed to protect and appropriately respond to their concerns they kept going and eventually gained a supportive ruling from the Local Government Ombudsman.

Who are villains? Invariably the systems that protect themselves and their interests instead of the people they are supposed to protect, such as Hounslow in their dealings with a vulnerable family with learning disabilities, and South Tyneside’s response to Mr P and Mrs S.

David N Jones, president of the International Federation of Social Workers

My heroes (mainly heroines) are the many social workers I have met around the world who have chosen our profession and hold to our ethical principles, despite low pay, low status and inadequate resources, using skill and personal qualities to help people in some of the most difficult situations imaginable, such as refugee camps, residential homes and inner city schools.

My villains of 2008 are the bankers who caused the credit crunch and the economists who legitimised their practices. Many preached antagonism to government expenditure and public service but were only too grateful for public bailouts when their mismanagement was exposed, the size of which could have revolutionised health and social services in poorer countries.

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