Sunday 9 May 2010

The Danger of Imposing Values

A few weeks back I was subjected to a day of training gobbledegook from one of our Senior Managers. I tried to get out of it by protesting to my immediate Manager (there are so many Managers)that as I am already well acquainted with the supported housing sector, having worked for years with other housing associations, that there was no need for me to go on a training day entitled "Introduction to Supported Housing." My interest might have been engaged if it was a course entitled "A Conclusion to Supported Housing." However, this particular housing association need to ensure that their own box is ticked with regards to me receiving the appropriate training even if I have received it before.

During our inculcation, one of the first things that the manager discussed was the importance of our roles "in helping young people to gain life and social skills so as to move on to independent living." Who could argue with that? After all, that is what I try to do when engaging with the residents. However, in supported housing it is possible to implement two diametrically opposite policies at the same time and fail to see the inconsistency and the damage this does to those young people the system claims to want to help. Allow me to explain by way of anecdote.

One of my fellow Support Workers, Stuart, complained that many of the residents kept their rooms in appaling conditions and that he was astonished that management objected to him trying to use punitive measures to ensure the rooms were kept to an acceptable standard.

"Some of the rooms and the shared kitchens are not just untidy, but actually very dirty. There are bags of rubbish in there, dishes lying around that have rotting food on them, carpets that have never been hoovered, again with food all over them and toilets that are never cleaned. Once we had a kitchen that had a fly infestation because none of the residents would empty the bins. Now although these are the extreme examples they are not uncommon and there are those that keep their rooms and kitchens in almost as bad a condition. I won't even repeat some of the things I've seen lying around in some bedrooms. Now, I dont think its fair that any maintenance worker should have to go in there when the rooms are in these states or that I should have to enter for health and safety checks every two weeks if they are this filthy."

"Well, Stuart, I can see how this would be frustrating, but unless there is an obvious health and safety issue such as an exposed electricity socket or a faulty smoke alarm, then we have no right to tell our residents how to keep their rooms. We need to be very careful here as there is a danger of imposing our own value system on to the residents. What you perceive to be tidy and clean is subjective and their living standards, as long as it doensn't impede on anyone else, are also valid," stated the Senior Manager. She's paid a significant salary from the state coffers to peddle the ideology of moral relativism.

I decided to speak up on behalf of common sense as no one else was coming forward to fight its corner.

"With all due respect, I completely disagree. Dirt is dirt and it is not subjective. A plate of rotting food or a floor covered in unwashed clothing is objectively unhygienic and filthy. You said earlier that part of our job is to guide young people to develop life and social skills, but this requires the imposition of values such as personal responsibility, punctuality, self discipline and so on and so forth. So on the one hand we are being encouraged to impose values and on the other we are being told not to. This is highly inconsistent. What's more is that the rooms don't belong to the residents, they rent them from the state which in most cases also pays for them and then these rooms have to be inhabited by other young people after each resident's two year stay and so should be passed on in good condition. Also, if allowed to keep their rooms in such unhygienic and deleterious conditions when living here they will leave the rooms in a similar state when vacating the premises and then the staff will have to clean up their mess. This is something I refuse to do any longer. I've seen enough used condoms and soiled clothing to do me a lifetime thank you very much," I ranted.

"I can see some of your points Winston, but at the same time we have to respect that the rooms are their homes and you wouldn't want anyone coming in to your home and telling you how to live," stated the Senior Manager.

"Yes, but I don't live in Supported Housing which by it's very definition makes a value judgement that the residents are not fully functional individuals and that they need to be guided. How can this be done without the imparting of values?"

After this exchange, there was a few hours of further goobledegook relating to the Quality Assessment Framework (government regulations), in which I contemplated faking an epileptic fit in the hope of being led out of there on a stretcher. Instead, I day dreamed of working in a job that saw results and where my outlook was appreciated.

At the end of the day the Senior Manager, who doesn't actually have to work directly with any of our residents, thanked us all for the work we do.

"I must admit I couldnt do the work you lot do and we really appreciate all of your efforts. I don't think I could last a day in your roles with all you have to deal with. Anyway, I hope you all have a great weekend."

We thanked her. She was a well meaning soul despite being indoctrinated by the waffle of Supporting People and the Quality Assessment Framework. However, most of us wouldn't have the great weekend she wished us as we would be at work and some of us on sleep-in duties which often means interrupted sleep as one wakes to deal with the noise of drunken and drugged youths disturbing the house.

I couldn't help but wonder what it is about the role of Support Workers that she wouldn't be able to abide? Would it be the verbal abuse? The threat of a complaint being made by a resident should you speak in a forthright manner when required, or even the fear of a physical assault? Perhaps, it was none of these things, after all who is to say any of this behaviour is bad. Surely, I should have learned by now that this behaviour is perfectly normal for our residents and to expect any thing is me trying to oppress them with my subjective value system. Of course, I am being facetious, as I said earlier the supported housing sector tends to employ moral relativism and the notion of subjective reality to deal with certain problems and the opposing belief system that there are universally accepted values to deal with others. Somehow, I don't think this helps any of the young people we deal with in that they need firm guidance and direction at all times not the misguided hogwash of moral relativism one day and the attempted imposition of loose boundaries and minor consequences the next. Is it any wonder that so many young people are so lost and dysfunctional when adults are refusing to guide them.


Anonymous said...

Excellent post as usual. Tried to think of a comeback against those numpty managers, but can't easily without sounding like an irate Daily Mail reader! If they really, really cared about those poor people then excuse the swearing, but they would be FAR FUCKING MORE JUDGEMENTAL..

mrfish said...

"Once we had a kitchen that had a fly infestation because none of the residents would empthy the bins."

They're starting to convert you, Winston. You nearly wrote you had empathy with the bins there. :)

Lilyofthefield said...

I've had a bad week at school summed up by your comment of an organisation holding two diametrically opposing views. They say they believe one thing and then arrange everything so only the opposite can happen. I've had enough. It's my subjective value judgement that these people and their lefty "it's the only way and anyone who doesn't agree is a Nazi" bullying, the no forum for any sort of discussion that isn't hearty cheering, are what is fundamentally wrong with public services.
I've had it, and reading this tonight has put me straight in my mind about what to do, so thank you.

Anonymous said...

I would have emphasised that the dirty rotting food is an obvious health and safety issue such as an exposed electricity socket or a faulty smoke alarm and that it presented a danger to other residents and that by doing nothing the housing association was being negligent.

I would also imply that it was my duty to inform any resident who fell ill that the reason they were ill may be the unhygenic conditions and that they may want to take legal action against the housing authority for it.

You could then ask the manager running the training course if you could send her an email confirming that she was aware of the state of the rooms and that she had directed you to do nothing about it.

Alternatively re-train and do something else.

rogh said...

Now you know how your clients feel, how it feels being forced to listen to irrelevant bollocks. Your clients know they face a life of petty crime and benefits, reading or riting or housework ain't no help at all.

In turn your bosses force "quality training" on you because it stops them getting sued. For the bosses to keep their jobs they must utter the social care mantra whilst keeping costs down, avoiding trouble and worst of all - blame.

Your clients might enjoy more relevant training - "caning the benefits" or "moving beyond shoplifting" and so on. Cut out the doublethink and you cut out the stress. So let your clients put their new training into practice and hire a Polish cleaner on the profits.

Marika said...

Wow. The organisation I work for is also SP funding and QAF-assessed, but I didn't realise how lucky (and unusual) I was to work in supported accommodation where there are weekly room inspections and a weekly house-cleaning jobs rota. It's crazy that that isn't just the normal way to run a project.

phatboy said...

I was at court recently and was asked to go and help out a 16-year-old girl who had just been found in contempt of court by the magistrates for a (fairly minor) outburst of frustration.

For various reasons that aren't important, I felt sorry for her and that in fact it was the magistrates who were in the wrong (they didn't like it when I told them that).

Anyway, the point is this, the girl's original offence was breaching her curfew (she wore an electronic tag) while living in a supported home. I asked her care worker (who for some reason continually diappeared whenever I needed to speak with him and, frankly looked like a fairly weak willed junky himself) why the girl was allowed out in breach of her curfew if she was in this care home.

I was told that staff "remind her" that she isn't allowed to go out as she leaves to go to the shop. I asked where she got the money to go to the shop in the first place and was told it was the from the staff!

Frankly, if when I was 16 a court had ordered me to stay home then my parents would have made sure that's exactly where I stayed. The staff at this home were in loci parentis and yet do nothing whatsoever to prevent this girl from breaching court orders.

Incidentially, the original offence was smashing up the home. When the police arrived they apparantely found the staff obstructive and as difficult to deal with as the residents.

TonyF said...

Well, no real surprises. Again management fail to manage, leaving the mess for someone to sort out. Only they can't, because management won't do what they are meant to do. It's about time some people in areas of 'responsibility' grew some spine. Mind you this is required from the very top down. It doesn't matter if it hurts some feelings. That's what life is about. Hurt feelings now may save a life later..

Anonymous said...

Phatboy I do see where your coming from but...... Working in this industry I know that people would rather not impose sanctions on her as she would probably smash the place up again. And if they still imposed sanctions would no doubt turn her aggression on the staff.

In the case you describe neither the home or the client are to blame but the government are. They are the ones that have created this fear factor of the feral youths we so often have to work with.

I personally believe that staff should be given power and the government need to define "Reasonable Force".

But personally I fear it is all a little to late and everything has gone to far. The people in this industry are either realists (Winston) or Fluffy (Excuse makers).

We're all doomed !!!!!!!

Time to retrain me thinks .........

Anonymous said...


I think you may need to replace the word 'yet' with 'can'....the point Winston generally makes throughout his blog is that the staff CAN do nothing whatsoever to prevent this girl (or anyone else) from breaching court orders. Or trashing their rooms. Or breaking all the rules. Or disrespecting everyone (including themselves). Even if some of the staff want to attempt to try any of the above, which Winston clearly does, their hands are literally tied by the sheer amount and weight of said gobbledegook as explained in his latest post. When they do try to impose restrictions and punitive punishments, or I assume try to stop someone with a Court Order going out, they are chastised by their managers and threatened with complaints by the young person in question. It's a crazy system that surely cannot be helping many people.

The management or whoever writes such stunning idiocy/Quality Assessment Framework do a massive disservice both to the young residents they are 'helping' and society at large. My immediate thought process goes to the employer who might one day attempt to impose their subjective value system.... hmmm wonder how that would go. Obviously Winston has made it quite clear that working and eventually supporting themselves is not exactly the outcome despite the incredible claim 'in helping young people to blah blah blah move on to independent living' yeah right. My hamster seems to have more ability to live independently than most of the people Winston describes and can, I reckon, also think more independently than the doctrined managers spouting such contradictory nonsense.

Winston I'm not sure how you do that job but I guess I know why - it's probably called independent living or something like that. There are other ways to do it though but in a selfish way I'm glad you're there - it provides some very fascinating and depressing reading...keep blogging please as I do like making myself want to bang head on wall....

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with (the other) anonymous. State that it IS a health and safety issue, for god's sake it's certainly up there with a lot of other stuff HSE definitely cover. Grim though it is, you might actually get somewhere by pitting bureaucracy against bureaucracy.

Julie said...

I don't doubt that when they leave and have to rent in the real world their new landlords WILL be far more willing to 'impose their own value system' -leading to a very steep learning curve. Hopefully that thought will at least give you some comfort as you grit your teeth...

Lilyofthefield said...

Not if the students round here are anything to go by. They trash the houses, leave sofas and beds out in the rain after a barbecue, break windows with footballs, never clean kitchens or bathrooms.... they know they'll lose their deposit but since Mummy probably paid it in the first place - meh. In a month's time, the skips will arrive and the house will be emptied of all furniture and soft furnishings. the decorators will come in and we will repeat it all again for another year.

SadButMadLad said...

A very similar story in The Thinking Policeman's blog at

Anonymous said...

Sounds like they need to let the management contract to Super Nanny

Jackson said...

I had an urgent need for cheap housing and applied to a funded housing organization. I was asked what mental illness I had, what drugs I took and how much I drank. I was in genuine financial hardship and was lucky to get a room. The place was filthy but I cleaned up my room and the kitchen which I used every day.

I couldn't help but get to know the other residents so I was constantly asked for money, cigarettes or the loan of utensils etc.

To use the laundry meant removing someones wet clothing from the washer. If I then started the washer it was likely that two people would appear and demand that I put their clothing in the drier.

These people were filthy. They stunk and drank and smoked. That's about all they did.

After six months I was getting complaints from the housing manager and the police that I was threatening the residents. I had numerous visits from the police. The few residents that were decent didn't have the courage or the ability to vouch for me. The housing people were the worst kind of pseudo educated social worker types.

A halfway decent cop suggested I move out but I couldn't. So I was carted off to a psych hospital on the grounds that I had "no respect for other peoples values". They were then able to kick me out.

Getting out of the psych hospital I was subjected to a treatment order. I defied the shrinks who knew that I was right and didn't have the courage to enforce the order. The shrinks then retaliated by having me charged with uttering threats to kill. That way they can diagnose me as a psychopath that doesn't benefit from medication.

After about 12 weeks of literally living on the streets I managed to find a slightly better place to live and have some small comforts such as a decent pc and wireless internet connection. But I expect soon to be in prison.

Anonymous said...

Lily of The Field,

Great thought but I think the people myslef and Winston work with cannot call Mum and Dad to recify their damage once it has been created.

When the people Winston talks about have to go it alone then hopefully reality will bite them in the arse....... But I doubt it !!!!!

In my experience they know that the system owes them housing and a very easy answer for them is get a child on board which guarantees you some form of housing.

I am just grateful that I have worked hard in the last 22 years and have ammassed enough to have a nice detached house away from the feral scum that our society chooses to protect. I endured living a few doors away from a housing project for these poor social outcasts!!!! My family did not appreciate the all night parties and shouting and yelling of these twats, that said we along with the neighbours had this home closed within 3 weeks as it was obviously not working with the staff confessing we have no control.

It really is a very sad state of affairs and I said in a previous posting I really do not know when or where it will all end.

New government may do something???!!!??? Lets see eh?

Watch this space.

halojones-fan said...

"I must admit I couldnt do the work you lot do and we really appreciate all of your efforts. I don't think I could last a day in your roles with all you have to deal with."

Oh, but of course that's not going to stop her telling you how to do your jobs, right? She couldn't possibly do the work you do but she still knows just how to do it--and you're doing it wrong.

PS I read that quote and I immediately thought:

"You've all done very well!"
"Thank you, Mister Grace!"

Anonymous said...

It is unreasonable to aim to provide for freedoms for the underclass which are denied to everyone else.

Members of the underclass need to be motivated to fit in. If this fails there is no need to interfere with their freedom.

As long as you toe the line you are earning your crust.

21st Century Trivium Man said...

Congrats on the Orwell

RichieRich said...


Many, many congratulations on your Orwell Prize.

Unknown said...

Congratulations on your win, thank you for taking the time to shine a light into places most of us know nothing about.

Minnie said...

Many congratulations on winning this year's Orwell Prize for bloggers: well-deserved, and you faced tough competition.
PS Blimey, so I suppose support works in this sphere have to keep their anti-Tetanus boosters up-to- date as well as the HepC ... And, as you suggest, dirt IS a H&S issue if nothing else!

Boy on a bike said...

Well done on the Orwell. Totally deserved.

marksany said...

Congrats on the Orwell, long may your blog continue.

News from Monday Books said...

Congratulations, Winston. I'll send the trophy in the post!

Neil80 said...

That's the thing with relativity. Accepting the post-modern proposition that every view is relative and that there are no wrong answers weakens your own position vis-a-vis any other arguements.

It is far more honest to adopt a position and argue it's merits (though not necessarily excluding others). Unfortunately due to the adoption of relativist paradigms within social care this strategy becomes difficult.

Lilyofthefield said...

I told you you'd won it ages ago and you didn't print my post!

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