Sunday 19 September 2010

Language Barriers: When Rules Are Not Rules

The Supported Housing Project that I have been placed with for the last few weeks is undergoing a lot of late night disturbances from drunken young people. To make matters even more disruptive for their fellow residents, who don't drink themselves stupid at every available opportunity, the drunken contingent bring back late night revellers and strays they have picked up whilst out on the town. Only a few nights ago whilst on a sleep in shift I was awoken several times throughout the night by anti-social revelry from several residents’ rooms. When I asked them to go to bed and for their unauthorised guests to leave the building they refused to co-operate and there was nothing I could do about it. The police wouldn’t be interested and could do nothing about it anyway. In the morning those young people not involved in the disturbances from the night before came to complain about being kept awake until the early hours and demanding that something be done about it. I assured them I would talk to the manager and that sanctions would follow. However, when I talked to the manager about the situation there appeared to be a language barrier with regards to the manner in which we could describe the solutions we wished to put in place.

"So Dave I was looking around for a copy of the house rules and was going to photocopy them and give them out to the residents to remind them of their responsibilities and that they can be evicted for persistently breaking the rules and disturbing their fellow residents. However, I can’t seem to find a copy of the house rules anywhere."

"Well Winston you can’t find a copy of the hose rules because we don’t have any. The senior management of the Housing Association feel that as most people don't have to live by rules in their own homes then neither should our residents. It's a load of nonsense really because of course we have rules but we just don’t call them that. Instead, there is a clause in the licence agreement (similar to a tenancy but with less rights) that the resident signs that states they must refrain from anti-social behaviour that is disruptive or acts as a nuisance to others. There are also rules with regards to the number of guests allowed on the project and the times they have to be gone but we don’t call them rules we call them a policy."

"So this clause tells them not to act in a certain way and the guest policy outlines certain requirements also?" I remarked.

"Yes they do."

"Then the clause and the policy are rules," I pointed out.

"I agree Winston they are but we can't call them that that as senior management view that as oppressive."

"As senior management have worded these licence agreements and also enacted the policies can they not see that clauses and policies that tell people how to behave are rules? At the end of the day we should be able to put up a list of rules around the building that informs the residents that breaking them means they are contravening the clause in their licence agreement pertaining to anti-social behaviour and that repeatedly doing so will lead to their eviction. They will then know exactly where the boundaries are and the other residents who are not disruptive will feel reassured that there is a clear and effective policy to tackle anti-social beahviour."

"Look Winston, you are getting too bogged down in semantics. At the end of the day when there is anti-social behaviour we are able to issue warnings due to contravention of the clause of the licence agreement and that is open to how we interpret it as well so it gives us leeway.”

“Well, I think failing to give young people clear and consistent boundaries in the form of written rules fails them. These youngsters don’t use terms like ‘clause’ and ‘licence agreement’ but they do understand the words ‘rules’ and ‘consequences.’ And as we have pointed out we have rules we just don’t call them that because some idiot in policy has decided that using the word ‘rule’ is a violation of a person’s human rights.”

“Well there is one way that we can have a printed list of house rules put up on the noticeboard.”

“How?” I asked.

“If at one of our consultation meetings with the residents they agree to having certain rules then we can print them and put them up.”

“But half of our residents are potheads who fail to sign on, cant successfully apply for housing benefit, are always in rent arrears and are in and out of court for petty offences. They can’t apply order to their own lives and seem to flout most social norms as well as the law so surely they are the last people that we should be consulting on how to run this project? Besides they only ever turn up to these resident involvement meetings if bribed with fast food. Part of the problem is that they lack any semblance of structure in their lives and we are failing them by not giving it to them because some Marxist with an antipathy to power and authority working in policy has decided that the word rule is anathema. Anyway, what are we going to do about these late night parties that are affecting those residents who get up early to go to work or college?”

“Well, I’ll give a few guest bans to the culprits involved for a week or two but you know the way it is they will either flout it straight away or when it expires be back to their anti-social ways,” stated Dave.

Anyway, I had to go and tick some boxes and chase up some residents for their signatures on forms stating I had supported them by handing them a telephone to ring the jobcentre. I was flirting with the idea of not completing the paperwork and when challenged by senior management I would inform them that it wasn't a rule that I complete the paperwork merely a policy, and that I should have been consulted on whether I agreed with it or not before I was asked to comply with it.


TonyF said...

Rules? My household has rules. My daughters know the rules, and we all obey them. If we didn't have rules, were the hell would we be?

Ah. I see.

Julie said...

If I had your job it would be a vrey, VERY good thing that we don't have the 'right to bear arms' in this country. I honestly don't understand how any of you can care and remain sane working in that environment. I've just taken another layer off my tooth enamel just reading your post.

the fly in the web said...

But there's one rule for you and another policy for the residents.

Anonymous said...

You are either incredibly stout-hearted or unbelievably foolish, for putting up with this neo-Gramscian BS. I would have quit for my sanity a long time ago...

Either way, kudos to you for sticking it out in the front trench to report to us unbelievers out here.

jaljen said...

Yes, I'm struggling with the concept of independent travel (in the context of travel training) meaning that the young person is permitted to be accompanied by an observer. Doesn't seem very independent to me. Actually my bosses want me to teach independence within the confines of my classroom through the medium of internet downloads. So much less perilous, don't you know.
Let alone the way I am chastised when held to be in error in a way that no student would be treated! Happy days.

The bike shed said...

Astonishing. And yet sadly predictable.

I live near to the home of Thomas Hobbes - life being nasty brutish and short and all that - it sometimes feels like not much has changed in 400 years

Anonymous said...

Winston, I think you are being too hard on the Police. If you call them - they will come and support you.

Please don't give in to the hopelessness that surrounds you in your colleagues and managers.

I'm feeling your frustration over rules - which are present in all of our lives outside the care industry. If I had a couple of loud parties in my apartment block, you can bet I would be threatened with eviction. Its exactly because this rule is not enforced in supported living that residents can't make it in the outside world. Eventually they place themselves in a world with the strictest of all rules - PRISON.

Anonymous said...

Having come to your blog and comments pages only today, and after studying with quiet horror the events as you relate them, I am reluctantly forced to ask if I am indeed living in the asylum, and all the inmates have been let loose upon this once-proud nation?

You seem to be well-educated, and in possession of your faculties, so my question is; 'Why on earth do you take it? Why on earth do you put up with behaviour which, in any decently-run commercial organisation would result in the instant dismissal of the perpetrators, and possibly the involvement of the civil authorities? Have we stooped so low as to accept the attitudes and actions of a feral minority as 'the norm' and take no further action than to shrug resignedly and have a smoke?"

Anonymous said...

Why do we bother with this stuff? Helping people who are too uninformed or unintelligent to help themselves is one thing, but feckless idiots who when they are helped throw it back to you, why bother?

Anonymous said...

I cannot agree with your conclusion that 'Marxists' are responsible for this lack of rules. I am a Marxist and I also work in the same situation as you and as far as I am concerned I think we should evict any resident who has a anti-social behaviour problem. In fact I have been arguing for this as a Marxist for some years at my hostel and had no response from the hierarchy of .... The working class can and should be disciplined as a class in order to change society.

WinstonSmith33 said...

@ Anon above I was being just little facetious with my use of the term 'Marxist'. In fact I admire some of Marx's analysis of capitalism. What I was getting at though was that much of the policy in the social care sector is driven by left wing social policy much of which is influenced by cultural Marxism and its antipathy towards power structures. Many people on the left, not all, are almost entirely hostile to any approach in dealing with anti-social behaviour that has tough discipline at its core. Marx himself was aware of those people on the fringes of society that added nothing to it, the lumpenproletariat I think he referred to them as. This class of people have nothing to do with the decent working class, although the latter unfortunately have to live cheek by jowl with them.

Anonymous said...


I love your blog and have managed to convert my fellow collegues to it, we work in residental care for teenagers in scotland and believe me we sympathise with your everyday fight against the unseen policy makers and managers. I have even taken to attaching copies of your blogs to our team meeting agendas a slight rebelion on my part but they are alwys a good discussion point and it is nice to know we are not the only ones with these thought sand feelings towards the state of our youths!

Timac said...


Life in the State of Nature is Nasty, Brutish and Short... not Life.

The state of nature being a hypothetical state of human existence before the formation of society.

Common mistake but irritating to a humble philosophy student nevertheless

The bike shed said...


The point was meant to be that without rules we are effectively in a state of nature - and that 400 years ago Hobbes observed the same things we see today. No mistake; but not the best of precise.

My philosophy tutor would have marked me down.

Roger said...

Was also going to play the 'but I am a Marxist' card but see someone else beat me to it.

The problem with the imbeciles who set 'policy' is that they are not Marxists at all but very small 'l' liberals.

What separates real Marxists from these bourgeois liberals masquerading as leftists is that we certainly do believe in rules and organisation - as it is only through disciplined collective action that we can achieve anything.

It used to be said of the German SPD when it was still a Marxist party that come the revolution if any of the comrades were ordered to take over the railway station they would first form an orderly queue and buy platform tickets.

And if we did have revolutionary workers councils take over our housing estates (sadly I don't imagine for a moment this is actually feasible...) I suspect there'd be no option but to send many of your hapless 'clients' to some Gulag just to save them from summary justice at the hands of their neighbours and victims.

So don't blame us - if Britain was a communist state the last thing anyone would complain about would be lack of rules or order....

Anonymous said...

I also work in supported housing and have worked in several projects in my time. Much of what I've read here I can relate to, almost as if I'd lived it myself. I think the problem though is less to do with 'Marxists' as it is to do with the wrong types of people being employed in this sector. I think that Nicola's problem is not her beliefs, but her sheer lack of ability to assert any type of authority or enforce boundaries. I've encountered her kind many times before and I find that they often hide behind their "beliefs" when confronted with their sheer lack of ability to do their jobs.