Best of the frontline bloggers (week ending 12th October 2012)

We love public and voluntary service bloggers. At their best, they capture the day-to-day reality of public services in a way that Westminster-commentators can’t – and they have the real expertise and insights we need to improve social policy. Here’s our selection of the best frontline blogs we’ve read this week. Do send us your suggestions for great posts we’ve missed – and those frontline bloggers we should follow in the future.


Cutting housing benefit for under 25s is indefensible, immoral and criminal

From DrTimCB

Posted 10th October 2012

This week George Osborne outlined plans to slash housing benefit for people under the age of 25 in both his conference speech and a Daily Mail article. This is part of a wider £10bn cut to the welfare bill… I’m presuming the subtext here is that if you’ve never paid into the system, you shouldn’t be able to take anything out. This shows such a profound lack of insight into the lives of many young people in the UK.”

Dr Tim, a junior doctor working in Tower Hamlets, tells the story of three young people – Max (19), Bea (22), and Nelufa (19) –  that he has worked with and who would lose out if proposals to reduce eligibility for housing benefit for those aged under 25 announced this week become reality. He argues that these reforms would leave vulnerable young people like these destitute, homeless and isolated.

Ruth Anim and Liam Barker – Different Disabilities, Very Similar Situations

From Same Difference

Posted 6th October 2012

“Exactly two weeks ago today, I heard and wrote about the case of Liam Barker. Eighteen years old, paralysed since birth, he breathes through a ventilator. His parents had just received a letter informing them that in order to receive Employment Support Allowance, he might have to prove he is unable to work by attending a Work Capability Assessment.”

In this post Same Difference describes the experiences of two disabled people with complex needs, Ruth Anim and Liam Barker, who have been subjected to the Atos-managed Work Capability Assessment (WCA). Liam has received a letter informing him that he will need to undergo a WCA, while Ruth’s mother has successfully appealed the findings of her daughters WCA which found that she was fit for work.


Medical power

From Abetternhs’s blog

Posted 5th October 2012

“I have written this because like many, perhaps most GPs I feel very uneasy about power. I aspire to a partnership with my patients, teamwork with my fellow health professionals and a more equal society. I feel very strongly that power is a privilege and medicine is a vocation and a public service, or as Iona Heath recently described it, ‘a labour of love’. Usually medical power is viewed in negative terms, an unreasonable acquisition of privilege and abuse of patient trust and public respect for personal gain. Whilst I don’t deny that medical power is abused terribly in this way, I am concerned that power is shifting away from professionals and democratically accountable government, and I am not sure that this is in our patients’ best interests…”

GP Jonathon Tomlinson challenges the current orthodoxy in healthcare by considering the implications of the power that healthcare professionals hold.  He argues that notions such as ‘patient independence’, ‘self-care’ as well as regulation and outsourcing, are reducing the autonomy of healthcare professionals and disempowering patients. He speculates about what this could mean for the future of healthcare.

High sounding words but privatisation marches on

From Mike Broad, on Hospital Dr’s Dr Blogs

Posted 9th October 2012

“Don’t get me wrong. I’m not blaming the private providers – indeed I’m not against the use of the private sector under certain circumstances. They’re not snatching these cherries, they’re being offered them by commissioners desperate to reduce costs.”

Mike Broad argues that the Government is rushing to privatise parts of the NHS to ensure that its reforms can’t be unpicked by any future incoming Labour administration. He outlines his concerns that the Government is not sufficiently addressing the risk that the private sector will cherry pick the most lucrative procedures under the policy of payment by results in health.


The Real Big Society

From PC Bloggs

Posted 5th October 2012

“Reading media reaction to Hillsborough, to Ian Tomlinson’s death, to all the other negative news stories, is galling at a time when we also feel let down by our own management and the Home Office. I am sure many police officers up and down the country have been wondering just what we are doing it for.” 

PC Bloggs describes how the outpouring of grief in the wake of the untimely deaths of PCs Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes has brought hope that the police service still commands public support in the wake of cuts and negative news stories. PC Bloggs argues that Big Society isn’t a replacement for public services, and that recent events point to a very different relationship where public professionals are valued and respected for the contribution they make.

Criminal justice

Cry From The Heart

From The Magistrates’ Blog

Posted 9th October

“Off to court yesterday morning. Standard kind of court list, three CPS trials listed, 2 in the morning, 1 in the afternoon. The subject of the charges also pretty usual, a couple of Assault by beatings (Common Assault) with domestic violence overtones and a Harassment without violence. In we go at 10 am all fired up having had some Case Management Training on Saturday…sadly it all went downhill from there.”

Bystander J, posting on the Magistrates’ Blog, describes three cases where the trials could not proceed because of bureaucratic barriers and lack of joined-up working between the courts and the Crown Prosecution Service.

Mental health

On Northern Ireland Backing the WRB and David Cameron’s cpc12 ‘Aspiration Nation’ Rhetoric

From The World of Mentalists

Posted 11th October 2012

“This idea that claiming benefits is a lifestyle choice is as hilariously preposterous as it is bullshit. Who would even entertain the notion of choosing this ‘lifestyle’? It’s a horrid way to go through everyday existence, as I can wholeheartedly assure naysayers. …Are there scroungers out there? Yes. Do they need weeded out of the system? Yes. Of course they do. But not at the expense of the vast majority that claim due to genuine illness. And it is a majority.”

To mark the passing of the Welfare Reform Bill by the Northern Ireland Assembly, The World of Mentalists spends the day listening to David Cameron’s speech day “in a state of raw terror [and] guzzling diazepam” – but at least it produces a good rant.

If you’re a frontline blogger, do send us your latest blogs on policy issues or posts from the past that you’re particularly proud of, and they could be included in next week’s round-up. Get in touch with us at: or via Twitter @guerillapolicy and @guerrillapolicy

Reflections on New Think Tank – 6. Zoe Vickerman

This is a series of posts in which we’ve invited people to give us their reactions to Guerilla Policy (formerly the New Think Tank project). This post: Zoe Vickerman, Director, Centre for Social Justice Alliance and Awards. Thanks to Zoe for contributing the post, and we welcome your comments.

A few weeks ago, I sat conspicuously in the front row of an excellent panel discussion on child poverty, hosted by Policy Exchange. Worthy adversaries, including the Rt Hon Frank Field MP, set out their views on what they felt the measures of child poverty should be in this country. I became increasingly aware of the agitation of the gentleman sitting next to me. His physical twitching turned into muffled bursts of outrage, and it wasn’t long before I could predict exactly which comments were going to elicit what responses. The more a speaker extolled income transfer as the best way to lift a child out of poverty, the more this gentleman leaned forward in his seat, nodding aggressively. But an uncontroversial suggestion from Fraser Nelson that giving an extra £10 to an addict would do little to lift their child out of their impoverished standard of living was met with eye-rolling and headshaking. Concerned that others might confuse my physical proximity to him with any kind of intellectual proximity, I put on my best condescending expression and shuffled to the furthest edge of my seat.

What surprised me was not the Mediterranean nature of his expressions. In fact, I find it rather impressive that he should have retained such a quality in a country that prefers to squash at infancy such displays of passion. Child poverty is an emotive subject, and I believe it should make us all equally hot under the collar. However, I have great objections to the notion that someone representing a prominent and well-regarded organisation (which turned out to be the case) would be so entrenched in their view that they are unable to accept what is plain fact – an undeniable truth. A child growing up in a home with a single parent who is addicted to drugs will not live in any better circumstances if the family has a little extra cash. We all know where the money’s likely to go.

The Centre for Social Justice is a social policy think tank, working on issues that range from education to welfare, debt and addiction. We think, but most importantly we listen. Our team of policy experts become experts thanks to hundreds of professionals, front line charity workers, academics (yes, they are important too) and people who have been affected by the situation that we are researching. For any given report that we publish, say community cohesion, the team leading the research will have taken hundreds of hours of evidence from what we call our CSJ Alliance – a network of over 300 local charities that are changing lives in communities across the UK, and which have been assessed as particularly outstanding and effective.

To the CSJ, these charities are not a take-it-or-leave-it source of sad personal case studies, offering illustrations to make a policy document not quite such a dull read. Rather, we recognise these charities as pioneers of innovation and effectiveness, the best of which are changing lives more successfully and more rapidly than any alternative public or private sector offering. They don’t just highlight problems to us – they give us solutions and prove that these solutions work. We need to listen to them.

For if we don’t, then we end up rolling our eyes in policy discussions, knocking about theoretical arguments where people ‘take sides’ that are determined by their broader political leaning, which may or may not bear any relation to reality. The starting point must surely be evidence. Only evidence from the ground has the power to shake policymakers out of their ivory towers.

The CSJ recently surveyed our 300 Alliance charities, asking what single aspect of early childhood had the greatest bearing on that child’s life outcomes. The near unanimous response was that growing up in a stable and loving family was the primary determining factor. Yes, money is important, but people and relationships are more so. That is the voice of people who face every day the issues that policy makers are trying to fix.

New Think Tank’s principles of engaging with those on the ‘front line’ are right. They are the ones with the answers, so let’s start listening.

Zoe Vickerman, Director, Centre for Social Justice Alliance and Awards