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No going back to Bedlam

Grace, a 92-year-old lady chained herself to the railings in Llandeilo, a small West Wales town, last Friday in protest at the closure of her lifeline day club – one of five shut down by Carmarthenshire County Council.

“For some of the members, it may be the only time they see or talk to anyone, a place where they can be cared for, for the day,” she said, in her impassioned message to the assembled demonstration. ‘It may also be the only time they get a hot meal, tending not to bother when they are on their own. Isolation can have devastating consequences.’

Councils are closing services across the board, abandoning their users to the already overstretched voluntary sector, and to the private sector. Many more fragile and elderly people can expect the kind of vicious abuse meted out to adults with autism and learning disabilities at a home run by Castlebeck, which has a £90 million turnover and runs more than 50 other care homes.

Arrests have followed the BBC Panorama investigation but that is of little consolation to those who have already suffered at the hands of the company’s staff.

Castlebeck charges the NHS and local authorities up to £3,500 a week to take responsibility – care is too strong a word – for residents. Tory MP Stephen Dorrell, health select committee chair, has the gall to blame public sector staff for failing to supervise the contract properly!

ConDem Chancellor Osborne’s proposed changes to the benefits system imposing an overall cap on payments, and restricting housing benefit, will plunge big families into penury. Poor parents could soon be asked to raise each child on just £3 a day.

The government's changes to the welfare system are already having a "devastating" impact on hundreds of thousands of people with mental health problems and have driven some of the most vulnerable to try to take their own lives, according to charities and medical experts.

A letter published in the Guardian signed by leading mental health charities and a senior consultant from the Royal College of Psychiatrists, states.

We've found that the prospect of incapacity benefit reassessment is causing huge amounts of distress and tragically there have already been cases where people have taken their own life following problems with changes to their benefits.

The word bedlam, meaning uproar and confusion, is derived from the name of the Bethlem Royal Hospital. Now at the forefront of humane psychiatric treatment, for much of its history it was notorious for cruelty and heartless treatment – the epitome of what the term "madhouse" means. We’re not going back to Victorian days, even if that is what the Coalition intends.

To those assembled in Llandeilo, speeches from Plaid Cymru MP Jonathan Edwards and others sounded like an epitaph for the day clubs and other services. But opposition to the cuts in public sector services privatisation and so-called welfare “reform” – read £18 billion reduction in spending – is mounting as the knock-on effects on childcare, housing and local government finance emerge.

Councillors in Wales and the rest of the UK, who falsely claim that their hands are tied by the grants allocated to them, are busy implementing cuts imposed by the ConDem government as it acts to fulfil the needs of a system in crisis, jettisoning everything that stands in the way of profit. As Greece, Ireland, Spain and many other countries head into state bankruptcy, no amount of these or any other destructive “reforms” to social care will be enough to extract the capitalist system from its own programme of intensive treatment.

The costs of fixing the system are beyond endurance. It’s time to move beyond protest, beyond resistance, and bring the whole community together in a network of People’s Assemblies. From Cairo to Madrid and Lambeth in London, these broad-based democratic structures are already beginning the task of constructing a new not-for-profit system that begins and ends with meeting peoples’ needs.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor
1 June 2011

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Your Say

Geraldine says:

I am appalled at what this government is doing, it has caused me to join other like minded people on the internet...hence reading this article. Because of arthritic pain and age I cannot walk far or stand for long and i feel at a loss to know how i can contribute to a people's assembly. Any suggestions?

Jonathan m-l says:

Yes Geraldine , it is my opinion that all can 'help' as you put it. One of the most important and valuable resources is the social memory brought that increases with 'age', and study. I still live the Irish Hunger (The famine of the 1840's) kept 'alive' by family and social memory. Lessons drawn from all past struggles need a very personal touch to boost the new generation entering into struggle. In each area connected to the whole; personal issues and global, whether arthritis which may be waiting for a breakthrough hidden in the disappearing world of the rain forests – Borneo or Congo or the Amazon, or a solution to social exclusion of which the above is a stark example.

Also the victories after the war of 1936 – 45 each country achieved a boost for those who had sacrificed the most – and were left standing (exception). However, 'in their name', not through the likes of Assemblies, at least not in the West. The Labour Party carried out one purge after another, the intelligence services contributing all along the line. After drawing the lessons of the betrayals known very personally by those who followed on the heals of the war, which were presented as victories, lest all be lost, what is going now, what this coalition must, by its nature, cut, privatise and scrap, least all is lost, all ability to exploit, to have profits and lifestyles 'they are accustomed to', they must also try and scrap historical memories.

The NHS is one of the central historical lessons here. There is no difference other than in their sense of presentation, of what should be said, and what kept quiet, in the ruling class now and 150 years ago. Still they would hang, drive down into poverty through wages needed to pay a minimum of life expectancy, of the use of cannon fodder – they have not changed, it is the strengths of the working class and its (and other world issues) effects on the expanding middle class – in Britain as elsewhere – that has shut their public mouths. And Nye Bevan's betrayal by 'stuffing their mouths with gold' now has left the same core of those educated within the health service drawling at the mouth at the idea of profits. However this 'core' is a minority, yet a controlling one. This difference can be seen starkly in the US. There the attempts to create a full public health service free and available to all is fought tooth and nail, and in the land where tactics and  political consultant are slickly greased by big business with near total control over access to the media outlets is near total where presentation is everything, it is naked crude on this. A threat to profits is a threat to the 'American way of life', and the national interest is always the interest of the ruling class. This naked crudity is now out there in Britain, as elsewhere. This is not tactical, this is because their system no longer has 'fat', it can not be trimmed, it must be cut. Wages must be pushed down, and all the social achievements, all that was paid by the taxes gone before, from forests to parks, from schools and hospitals to all taken for granted that made previous generations what they were, that defined them – must now be given gratis to the class that skipped tax when it could to 'hire' back to those that built and paid for them.

Thus a 92 year old chains herself to what is hers and she knows it sensuously, historically, personally. She is in no doubt. And 92 would make all that history that made her. Do the maths! This women has been through a slump before. After all, Bevan copied the South Wales miners scheme. Truly the 'post war settlement has collapsed, as has the National Insurance scheme of the turn of the 20th century, for them they have no choice but to attempt, are forced into planning on 'going back to Victorian days'. For all involved in struggle the only outlet is through Assemblies and the support of those in them. No one need feel excluded as with needs grow demands, with shared needs grow tactics: and out of this grows new possibilities of social being.

The likes of Barchester (over 150 'Homes') and Castlebeck and their ilke were gradually handed nearly all the mentally and physically ill, pensioners and others. Profits is their driving purpose, nothing else, squeezing 'residents' and staff alike – it is no wonder the standard of staffing suffers. They 'milk' the NHS in a number of ways, not least in that the nursing staff are removed from the community of health care and union solidarity and traditions. The layers who spent the last 65 years either feeling that the NHS 'was safe in their hands', now either see the lie, or hope for its outcome. Now they feel they can stuff their pockets with gold. Now is indeed for others the time to stand and fight. When rail, or mines and their workers are privatised, are handed over to big business, matters stand as with productive forces; here the commodity is people; and vulnerable ones at that.

The network of capitalist 'Assemblies' involving Westminster, 'Care Home' companies, drug companies and outlet like Boots, not to add to this the links with the councils and financial outlets of the state – while these companies increase profits the incredible squeeze on benefits pandered to by the traditional media with its hysteria on false-claims and job-shy, etc., - circles itself with a secrecy that involves all forms of 'entrapment' where not only whistle-blowering but sucking in as many state forms and social forces as possible creates a culture of secrecy to accompany their profits.

Fiona says:

These cuts are absolutely shameful, but there is no excuse for the bullying behaviour of the 'care' home staff either. Respect to Grace for her brave and spirited defence of her day club! Ultimately we all have to come together to dismantle these and all other solely for-profit structures and systems once and for all.

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