The country is now indebted to the tune of well over a trillion pound, an unprecedented level of debt, and an enormous burden on children yet to be born. Now, with all this borrowing one would like to think that the money is going to be used wisely and on services that most reasonable people would agree are worthy and essential to the functioning of society. I'll leave it to you, the reader, to decide whether the following scenario is worthy of having a penny of public money spent on it.
A few months back I had a placement for a few weeks at a large supported housing unit with about forty residents. Quite a few agency staff had been drafted in, mostly to update files and get paperwork in order as most of the previous staff team, who had almost all been sacked, were too busy drinking with the residents to bother with the paperwork.
Writing 'support' plans that explain to members of the underclass how to go about signing on and how not to knock up your on-off girlfriend and her best friend is a thankless and soul destroying task and would lead the most virtuous to seek solace in the bottle. Socialising with residents is a massive no-no (why would anyone want to?) and having sex with them is most definitely out of the question but that didn't stop the security guard or a particular female member of staff, both now sacked. That's a whole other story.
Anyway, for the couple of weeks that I was working there, myself and my colleagues were meeting with the residents and updating their 'support' plans, as there was an imminent inspection from Supporting People (a regulatory branch of the Department of Communities and Local Government that allocate grants that keep these projects functioning).
Besides the team of six agency support workers, there was another team of three administrative staff and also three managers, all overseeing that the signatures were in the right place and that the sheets were dated and numbered correctly and that the proper cover sheets were in place in any given resident's 'support' plan. In terms of salary expenditure for all these staff, you would be looking in the region of £200-300,000 for the year. Money that could be better spent elsewhere. Pick your cause.
Meanwhile, whilst we were in the office ticking boxes and managers checked that we had ticked the right boxes so that external state bureaucrats would be happy that the right boxes were ticked, the residents were in their state sponsored bedsits getting high, drinking, missing appointments at the jobcentre, fighting and impregnating each other. It is like this in most large supported housing projects for 16-25 year olds, despite all the wonderful, expensive and well documented 'support' they get.
Now, the criteria by which the Department of Communities and Local Government evaluate supported housing projects is known as the Quality Assessment Framework or QAF as we call it in the industry. The QAF consists of many ridiculous 'performance indicators', the most ludicrous being an insistence that residents be involved in the running of the service. This can be evidenced by allowing residents to interview new staff, sit in on staff reviews, make suggestions on rules, organise events and so on. This all sounds great but you have to remember that the majority of people we deal with are dissolute and feckless individuals and giving them the impression that they have power is a recipe for disaster(Later posts will show why).
In order to evidence that the residents are involved in the running of the service I've been asked to help facilitate a meeting with them to listen to their ideas. At this meeting one of the things the residents are asked by a Senior Manager is what activities could the project provide for them to make their lives more fun. Is being drunk at noon, having multiple sexual partners and smoking joints first thing in the morning not enough fun for them?
By the end of the meeting the manager has committed to a Karaoke night and the purchasing of a communal Nintendo Wii video game. This meeting took place during the day when these young adults should have been working or training and not being interviewed by an agent of the nanny state which is now so over reaching it is even involved in helping people organise their recreational activities.
Many large supported housing projects employ what is called a Resident or Client Involvement Officer whose job is solely to bribe and coerce residents in to being involved in running the service so as to comply with the QAF. This post usually commands a salary of between £25-30k. And in the words of one Resident Involvment Officer I spoke to last year, "Any in house activity that the residents help organise is evidence of compliance with the QAF in relation to resident involvement. Last week in my project I helped the residents organise a DVD night and it was a great success. Mind you I had to put on some free soft drinks and Pizza to get a fair few residents to attend."
Of course he had to entice them out of their pot filled dens with free food. They all have TVs and DVDs in their rooms but by getting a few residents to stick up a few posters advertising a prosaic activity like watching a film he is able to tick a box entitled 'resident involvement'. It all helps to keep the funds flowing in to the project and keep the Resident Involvment Officer in a job. Nice work if you can get it and nice to know that some of the exorbitant public debt is being spent on such laudable and worthwhile initiatives.
I now await the usual comments from the Guardianista brigade telling me how worthwhile all this 'support' is.