Here is a powerpoint show introducing Spurgeons vision for a coordinated approach to family support designed specifically for Bedford Borough Council. Just click on it and it should play through. Spurgeons Vision for Family Support in Bedford
February 14, 2011
November 16, 2010
One of the features of the life of a young carer that seems not to have been given profile today is the extent to which they are bullied at school. Children with significant caring responsibilities will often stand out amongst their peers and not be understood by them – perfect fodder for the class bully! They might show up for schoool late after being up early and caring for another member of their family. They might be tired and find it hard to concentrate or keep up – falling behind in their work for no fault of their own. They may be depressed, not wanting to engage with the life and banter of their classmates. They might not be able to go on the school trip, to a friend’s party – so many different ways they can stand out and receive the wrong kind of attention.
We had one young carer that we work with in the Midlands, recently turn down the chance for a really exciting and huge media opportunity that would have put here on prime time national TV. It meant an all expenses paid trip to London, hotels, meeting a very well known person (more to be revealed at 5.30 on 16th Nov . . . .). She truned it down – not because she was scared of doing it but because she was worried about being bullied at school. An extreme example maybe but it brought home to me just how sensitive life for a young carer can be with their peers.
Schools have a massive role to play here. The more schools can identify the young carers in their midst and be aware of the pressures they face, the more likely those children are to receive the understanding, care and protection they need. Let’s hope today’s focus helps to bring greater awareness of teachers and other professionals to the realities of life young carers can face.
In all the stories today about young carers there seems to me to be a bigger issue that we are not grappling with: what kind of society do we want to be?
What kind of society is it that leaves a 12 year old girl with the responsibility of giving daily injections to her mother, mixing her complex medication and injecting it into a tube into her stomach? Or the 4 year who cares for her mum with epilepsy and twice has had to call 999 to get an ambulance out when her mum has had a fit? The many wonderful young carers projects around the country can help these children to cope with their circumstances but do we really want our society to leave children in such situations?
There seem to me to be questions about our social fabric and about the direction of the state. The fragmentation of families and communities is a daily reality for most of us. There are fewer and fewer examples of extended families being the core of care and nurture for our children, sick and vulnerable. Isolation in neighbourhoods leaves older people living alone with minimal contact and support from those living around them. In this respect I agree with David Cameron – we need to reinvent a Big Society – one where we reforge communities, where its normal to offer and receive help. That’s the kind of community and society I want to be part of and I want my children to grow up in and contribute to.
But there’s a political angle to all of this too. I am deeply concerned about the social impact of the current government’s programme of cuts. How many young carers projects will be cut or significantly reduced in the coming months? How much less support will be on offer to families in crisis or suffering long term chronic problems? As we hear today shocking stories of so many children with caring roles in the family, the reality is that their situations are likely to get worse and the current direction of travel is likely to add many more children to their number.
The current government and even the opposition seem blind to any medicine to our financial crisis other than cuts. But that is not the only way forward. If want to be a society that protects our most vulnerable citizens we need both to reinvigorate our communities AND be prepared to raise more in taxes to pay for the level and qaulity of services we want. Why are we not having that debate – especially on a day when we are presented with some stark realities about the plight of so many children?
Great job the BBC! Today (16th November) the beeb are profiling the plight of children who take on significant caring roles for a family member. There are features all over the BBC and many of these are using stories of children that Spurgeons works with in different projects around the country. One of the main ones is Victoria – see more about her story here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-11744836
Help for Heroes is a charity that has received huge profile recently supporting British troops. I think that young carers are an army of ‘hidden heroes’ who do so much to support their mum, dad, sibling etc. Many of them are sacrificing big chunks of their childhoods, missing out on so many things that other children take for granted.
Spurgeons works with over 1000 young carers across the country. In some ways what we provide to them seems very ordinary but the difference it can make is huge. To be with people who understand the pressures you face as a carer, to be able to talk about your fears and the resentment that can sometimes bubble to the surface. To have an adult who is not a teacher or social worker but a volunteer who cares for you and can provide a safe, listening ear. None of this is rocket science but the difference it can make to these hidden heroes is huge. Have a look at Spurgeons home page for more info and to donate to help us keep this work going: http://www.spurgeons.org/
November 9, 2010
Here’s a link to Nat’s blog looking at different ways forward to charities caught up in the current changes.
October 27, 2010
Labour have traditionally been a party that believes in the provision of widespread, quality public services that are free at point of use to everyone. It is no surprise that under their management we saw a considerable increase in public expenditure going into schools, hospitals, children’s centres etc. However, high spending and excellent services requires relatively higher taxes to pay for it – something it seems the politicians feel there is no real stomach for in this country.
Now that we are back to a Tory dominated government it is no real surprise that their traditional approach of lower tax, smaller state and a free market is what’s driving the agenda. But having got used to improved services under Labour we are probably headed for considerable social unrest as people are not prepared to have the services they have become used to, taken from them.
So, we seem to have become a society that wants excellent public services but is not prepared to pay for them. For me the missing dialogue is over what kind of society we want to be. Is it high tax, large scale services or low tax and considerably reduced public services? It seems a little bit like Labour tried to sell us the lie that we could have low tax and lots of services but the level of borrowing and the debt we now face is the inevitable result of relying on the fickle promises of sustained economic growth to have the gain without the pain.
So where’s the debate that says “do we want to be a high tax, big state society or a low tax, small state one”? Are we to head towards Scandanavia or America? Labour dodged this issue, fearing, I believe, a UK public that would not vote for higher taxes in order to secure excellent public services. Now the Tories are in we are quite clearly galloping across the Atlantic using recession as a convenient excuse to slash the size of the state.
Rather than headline this movement as ‘Small State’, Cameron’s cleverly pushing the very appealing sounding ‘Big Society’. in common with so many, I like the sound of living in a Big Society. I like the rhetoric of communities working together to solve their problems. But let’s not get dazzled in the headlights of the Big Society bus and miss fact that its ideology as much as recession that is slashing through our public services.
August 25, 2010
George Osborne proudly trumpeted his emergency budget as being progressive – he even qualified this by insisting that it protected the most vulnerable: ““Overall, everyone will pay something, but the people at the bottom of the income scale will pay proportionately less than the people at the top. It is a progressive budget.” - well done George.
Today I read a report from the IFS (Institute of Fiscal Studies) that has some pretty shocking conclusions:
So it appears that the budget was not as benign to poor households as stated. This is so significant. With the ‘cutting frenzy’ in public services at present there is a real danger that those who can least bear reductions in their support will end up being the ones who take the biggest hit. That is simply not acceptable in a fair and reasonable society that should be protecting its poorest members. Are the ConDems (is that going to be an unfortunately accurate nickname?) going to do all they can to protect the poorest in our society through the Spending Review? The track record so far is not looking good. I think I’m going to write to my MP on this – the more pressure we can bring to bear now, hopefully the more careful they will be in looking at future plans to protect the poorest.
The Government says it is progressive. I want to see proof that this is true and not window dressing and grandstanding that is hiding a more sinister direction of travel.
May 14, 2010
I have a vivid memory of David Cameron when he first took over leadership of the Tories. He said that he would bring a different way to doing politics. He would be less adversarial, more collaborative, praising good ideas when they arose, not trading insults, acting in a more rationale way – on other words – no more punch and judy politics. Great! I was impressed and delighted. Trouble was it didn’t last long and soon Mr C was in there with everyone else operating in the same tired (and rather pathetic) way that has defined British politics.
So to hear Cameron and Clegg talking enthusiastically and evangelically about a new era of politics where cooperation and compromise in the national interest overrule party politics is both music to my ears but also leaves me wondering for how long it will last. I can see they are sincere, just as Mr C was when he took over as Tory leader. Let’s hope that this time they have the guts and integrity to stick at it and resist the drift back to old fashioned party self interest and the slapstick politics which do nothing for this country, our reputation and our culture.
The Labour party will have a role to play here. Will they and the new leader they elect be prepared to play ball and become a more mature opposition, engaging constructively in the national interest? I hope that as they elect a new leader they will be looking for someone who is not going to just stick with the same old script but can engage constructively in the Con-Lib new era.
At the risk of sounding like someone who’s just reacting to change, I want express my concerns about Michael Gove’s focus in the new Department of Education. Having just read his email to staff in the new department I am left feeling rather uncomfortable by the one dimensional thinking which emphasises ‘education, education, education’. Here’s a paragraph from that email:
“To help us achieve the radical reforms that we will need, I want to refocus the Department on its core purpose of supporting teaching and learning. So I am delighted that we have acted immediately to create a new Department for Education.”
I can see that a department set up specifically for education. However, unless things have changed significantly and we haven’t heard yet, Gove’s department is about far more than education. I’d like to see it called the Department for Children’s Wellbeing. Our children need so much more than just education. The core purpose of the department should be children’s wellbeing – a big part of which is education. Surely we have moved beyond the days of seeing children primiarily as small people needing education and have a much fuller understanding of children’s needs. It seems to me that the 5 outcomes of Every Child Matters moved us a forward in looking at children in a far more holistic way. I hope that we are not going to lose this ground and return to a more simplistic, one dimensional view.
May 12, 2010
The last ten years have seen significant new levels of investment in services for children. 3,500 children’s centres across the country is a massive investment in a whole new community infrastructure, specifically targeted towards young children and their parents. In some ways these have been golden times and we should not lose sight of the significant developments there have been.
However, one thing is clear: we cannot afford to maintain the level of investment and expect more new money. There will have to be cuts in public spending and it is inevitable that services for children will feel the impact.
Spurgeons will undoubtedly see further significant change in the months and years ahead. There will be threats to what we currently do and there will be opportunities to do things differently and possibly even to grow further. We will need great wisdom to steer a course through the twists and turns ahead – please pray for us, especially for a sense of hope and creativity to respond in constructive ways.
But whilst the election and its aftermath may well have big implications for Spurgeons, in some ways that is a secondary issue. Our primary concern has to be on the impact of any changes on the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children and young people in our society. To use an oft quoted phrase before the election; ‘I agree with Nick’ [Clegg] who said “any society, any government should be judged on its attitude toward and impact on the most vulnerable”.
My great fear in a time of necessary belt tightening is that it will be the poorest, the marginalised, the most vulnerable children who end up paying the highest price. Vital preventative services that help to keep families together, keep children safe and stop problems escalating, can be easy targets because much of their impact is hard to measure and only seen over the long term. Financial support, housing, healthcare – all of these are significant issues for poor families. There are still children in this country who will go to sleep tonight in a bin bag on the floor. Part of our focus, as people who care passionately about the wellbeing of children, has to be on speaking out for those whose voices are not heard.
There’s another price being paid by children up and down the country as financial pressures cause rising family tension and breakup. We are seeing more and more children whose parents have separated and who carry new emotional baggage as well as the increased physical hardship that often results. After being around for 143 years, it seems that the need for organisations like Spurgeons the committed people who support us does not diminish. Let’s harden our resolve to keep speaking up for ‘the least, the last, the lost’ and doing all we can to bring new hope and a brighter future to children.