Louise Casey, Problem Tsar

Louise Casey, who calls herself Director General, Troubled Families, published a report this week; ‘Listening to troubled families’. This report generated headlines and television news coverage across the UK. There has been some criticism. Zoe Williams provides a good summary here.

So why am I bothering to write anything? I suppose because I feel incensed. Because I’m a researcher and I hate to see fake ‘research’. Especially published fake ‘research’. Especially in a government publication. And most importantly, because this sort of toxic bile sticks. I can imagine how it’s been reported in the Daily Mail and Telegraph. Middle class people across the country turning their noses up at these ‘feral families’ over their breakfast tea and toast. It’s wrong.

So, where shall I start? Well, Casey’s certainly overstretched herself with the report. It’s poorly written, repetitive and drips with judgemental statements. Even the foreword (written by herself) is rambling, repetitive nonsense. I keep coming back to ‘why did she do it’? She ain’t no researcher. There’s a ton of up to the minute, well researched studies the government could have drawn on. I can only think she was given the ‘problem families’ gig (why?) and took it upon herself (in a self important way) to go and ‘interview’ some families, select extracts from the interviews (bypassing the essential stage of analysis) and vomit text around them. Text that reeks of her own fears,anxieties, assumptions and prejudice. The random referencing of academic study underlines a woeful lack of engagement in this area.

A bug bear of mine when providing student feedback is meaningless, throwaway statements. Louise has got a real handle on these;

In some cases there are clearly negative consequences for children growing up in these structurally unstable families, especially where the instability is accompanied by violence. [You don’t say..]

She also shines at lobbing in unsubstantiated, judgemental statements;

Some of the families reported being able to cope with the children when they were younger but as they got older found it more difficult, as they often started to display more challenging behaviour – often borne of their early experiences.

Many of the people interviewed were just not very good at relationships –  unsurprising perhaps in light of their own upbringing.

There is a leaning towards a Mills and Boon type style of writing. Not your usual government report lingo;

For example, as soon as the relationship between the parents breaks down, the father disappears from the family never to be heard of again.

But mostly it’s meaningless nonsense, again openly framed by Casey’s view of ‘good’ (middle class) parenting;

In some cases the mother’s idea of protecting their children seemed extremely far away from what most would consider acceptable. “Yeah so Owen left and then I think Clare must have been probably the age of going up to secondary school herself and she was fine in her first year. She got to 12 and I don’t know what happened. She changed completely. Horrible child…she basically took over the house…” Jill

In the next extract, Louise seems to equate living in the same area for a long time as isolating. But I think she probably means living in the kind of area these families live in means they don’t mix with ‘normal’ people and this leads to some sort of interbreeding and more problems.

The impression of families’ isolation from more ‘normal’ or positive friends or networks came across strongly. While many families moved around from one place to another fleeing violence, others had never left the area they had grown up in. Their partners came from the same street or moved between women in the area. They tended to stick within a network of other dysfunctional peers.

She gets herself in a bit of a mess in the next section. When it comes to parents blaming services, she suddenly tries to inject some objectivity into the report and spouts gibberish;

Many of the families complained about professionals or agencies involved with them, and in particular, social services. However it would not be fair to always lay the blame there when looked at dispassionately [???]. Undoubtedly, some families have reason to feel let down. But there were often unwarranted feelings that their problems were not of their making, and that they had no control over the problem or its solution; that it was they that had highlighted problems, with services simply failing to intervene and do what they were entitled to expect of them.

She manages to slip in that some families want larger council houses and makes it clear that while the mothers raise challenges they face, such as overcrowding, unsupportive schooling and a lack of effective support, the problem is firmly located within the family. To the extent that she refuses to acknowledge that some of the kids had learning difficulties. This is kind of hilarious in a way. But of course it’s not.

In certain cases there were undoubtedly problems with children that any parent would find difficult to deal with. But for many it was clear that the reasons for that behaviour had come from the household itself – the poor parenting skills, the constant changes in the home, family and partners, and the ongoing verbal and physical violence (among many other factors no doubt).

Yep, she actually added that last bit in brackets..

The conclusion is firmly within Mills and Boon territory with “starkest messages” about these dysfunctional families “who are not beyond help and hope”. I am not going to even repeat any of her nonsense conclusions because they ain’t worth the paper they are written on.

I’m left with a few questions really;

  • How can this piece of billy bullshit (or bileshit) be presented as a government report?
  • Why is Louise Casey Director General of Troubled Families and what does this mean?
  • Are there any other Director Generals and if so, who are they?

The spreading of such toxic bile is deeply alarming, but so is what it demonstrates about this bunch of chocolate teapots running this country.

Remploy and “loss making”

I’m in favour of inclusive work places. Of course I am. But in terms of inclusive work practices developing in the UK, I’d say we were at a similar stage really (ignoring the unsustainable fluff introduced every now and again) to 30 years ago. Nothing has really changed.  Yes, there has been a shift away from institutionalisation but there is plenty of evidence that despite living ‘in’ the community, learning disabled people remain outside of the community, isolated, often victims of hate crime and not in, or even close to, employment.

And employment, or work, is one of the central features of our lives.  Something this pig ignorant coalition government wilfully misunderstand, misinterpret and use as a political tool for their own purposes.

Today Remploy employees are striking against the proposed closure of 27 “loss making” factories putting 1421 people at risk redundancy.

Remploy provides employment opportunities for learning disabled people (and so much more).  Remploy employees go to work, work and earn money. Ok, it’s an exclusive setting, but, for the time being, the rest of the UK workplaces are exclusive too.  Exclusive to people without learning disabilities. Until these workspaces become inclusive, closing Remploy is going to leave most, if not all, of the current employees unemployed.

Many or most Remploy employees will no longer go to work. Structured everyday life, use of space outside of the  homes, journey to and from work and social experiences gained on a daily basis will be removed.  Many employees will be left with the option of day centres, staying at home or using direct payments to pay someone to take them out somewhere. We all like going out, but as a part of our lives, not as a sole feature.  There are also implications for family members who will have to readjust their own lives accordingly.

Many or most Remploy employees will no longer work. The benefits of working are documented in a ton of evidence gathered over decades. I won’t bother to list them here, but the health consequences of not being able to gain employment are also documented. The lack of structure and activity, and the emotional distress caused by the removal of  working lives, may have serious health implications.

Most or many Remploy employees will no longer ‘earn’ money. Yes, there will be some financial support but it ain’t the same thing. And no doubt there will be some shenannigens about placing Remploy employees in an inappropriate work category, leading to more punitive sanctions in line with current changes to the benefits system.

So what is going on here? Is the government closing these factories because they subscribe to the vision of an inclusive society in which learning disabled people are supported, welcomed and sustained in paid employment?

Bollocks. It’s all about money. The worth and value of learning disabled people is so low, that keeping (financially) unprofitable factories open, even if they offer some people employment and everything that comes with that, is not an option.  But “loss making” in this situation, cannot and should not be measured financially.

The DWP commissioned report into the viability of Remploy opens with the statement;

The views expressed in this report have been based on discussion with Central Management only.

Sums it up really.

Playing games

Now. I ain’t no politician. And I don’t claim to know an awful lot about the structure and process of British politics. Well, barely anything really.

But I do know that, unless you are an exceptional person, if you have the life experience of – very rich family, public school and Oxbridge education (most likely studying PPE) and straight into politics – you ain’t really going to know diddly squit about anything other than being very rich and privileged. Nothing.

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Being LB’s Mum

Regular readers will know that quite a chunk of this blog focuses on my relationship (and interactions) with LB.  This isn’t to detract from my (or Rich’s) relationship (or interactions) with any of the other kids. It’s just that life with a dude like LB has peculiarities and a difference to it, that are often not really known about, or understood, by people outside of family or close friends.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit recently about being LB’s mum. This is because he is kind of becoming an adult. I say kind of for obvious reasons.  Well I think they are obvious reasons. In my book, he’s going to have to be able to count to ten and cross a road unsupervised before he gets adult status. But maybe I’m wrong.

Being LB’s mum has had a profound impact on my life. This impact has been a mix of good, bad and indifferent. As I’ve mentioned before, LB is a genuinely funny dude. Intentionally or unintentionally, he has been consistently entertaining, he is loyal, loving and delights in certain interests. Being his mum has opened up a world to me that is, by turn, frustrating, enlightening, rewarding and soul destroying. I’ve met a lot of remarkable women who have had to go so much further, in terms of physically and emotionally caring  for their disabled children on a daily basis, than is commonly expected of mothers. These women have a resilience, humour and down to earth engagement with regular, sometimes relentless, sometimes shocking challenges. These challenges take so many forms, it would be impossible to begin to list them, but they are substantial. And life changing. I’ve also met a lot of remarkable people who throw themselves into teaching, or caring for, dudes like LB.

My experiences with LB have motivated me to explore academic areas, and develop a career, that may have passed me by in different circumstances. That is pretty cool. I’ve dived into the disability studies pool, splashed around with other parent academics to help carve out a legitimate space for parents of disabled children in disability studies. And had critical, challenging and stimulating discussions and debates along the way.

The bad has been (largely) caused by crap, poorly organised, non-existent or overly bureaucratic support. It has also related, at times, to his behaviour or actions but we won’t dwell on that now*.

Now he’s heading into a different space. A space that is a little bit uncertain. Some things ain’t changed. One of us has to be here everyday after school. He still needs a babysitter if we go out. He still needs prompting to get dressed and clean his teeth. But chucked into the mix now is shaving (shudder), sex education (“Mustn’t get pregnant Mum”), sick notes from the doctor and more surveillance from the state in the form of Atos nonsense questionnaires** and interviews.

Being LB’s mum is different to being the mum of non-learning disabled children. Instead of having a cracking old cry, waving him off to university or wherever, the boy ain’t going anywhere for the forseeable future. We are in for the long haul. That’s fair enough in a lot of ways. But the worst, truly awful and distressing aspect to being LB’s mum is thinking about the future. I know, from speaking with a lot of other parents, this is the biggy for most parents in this situation.  The ‘I really can’t bear to go there’ issue.

That is why I am so enraged at the proposed erosion of the welfare state by a government who have no understanding of what lives are like on the disabled (or chronically ill) side of the fence.

It’s wrong. And damaging in unmeasurable ways.


*But as a taster run with aggression, tantrums that have raised the ceiling in substantial supermarkets, a sleep pattern that would flummox a torture regime and low level, continuous questioning. Of everything truck and bus related.

**For a future comedy post.