An English/Italian Fable
I’m increasingly spending time with people whose experience of social services, health and education, adult services, is nothing less than, well, to be frank, appalling. These anecdotes of heartache and woe, of anger and frustration, of not being respected by the system or dignified by being heard, these individual notes seem to combine to create a Greek chorus of exasperation. This is not what we need.
I even find the same or similar sentiments voiced when I explore with professionals why things cannot be delivered, why options are so sparse, why promises are broken. Even many professionals and providers feel things are out of kilter. This is not what I trained for.
It seems most people involved are sick of what might be termed the malnutrition of support, and the rich food of rhetoric has not landed on people’s plates. Everyone is starving for honesty.
A few years ago my wife and I developed a dangerous taste for pannacotta, that creamy vanilla pudding, heavy with sugar and lusciousness. We usually made it ourselves but when time was short we’d buy a particular brand. (This was shortly before we both mysteriously gained a lot of weight.) We bought pannacotta for several months. Then it became a bit bland. It must have been us. We had become satiated, surely. But when checking the ingredients (sad, I know) we noticed how constituent parts had been altered, the cream reduced, the vanilla superseded by vanilla-flavour, the sudden appearance of skimmed milk and guar gum. A different thing. This process of watering down, of economising, is called without a trace of irony, refinement.
Food companies and branding gurus know something interesting. Get people hooked, they keep on buying the product, and even when you water down the ingredients, people keep purchasing it, because in effect people buy the memory of what the product once was. People buy the idea of what was.
Everyone knows the idea of The Net: social and health care in the UK. This fairness is what our grandparents fought for. When it was new the net was intended to catch many. Then the net was stretched. Oh, there’s always a rationale. A new economics. But look, there’s still a net. Once the holes became stretched then aspirations and intents oozed through, a few people tumbled down. People who didn’t quite fit the net design. You do not fit our service-net, the trawler crew say. But I thought the service-net was supposed to… Ah, no, that was the old model. We’ve had to modify… But our grandparents promised us cradle to grave, an equitable… Yes, well, times change, don’t they?
We’ve stretched our web wide over the years when times were tough and it seemed to many there were more holes than net. Look at all these human lives, falling from great heights.
How big do the holes have to be, how many people must fall through these holes, before we wake to the fact there is no net?
Please stop refining. Stop diverting us from seeing the reality by waving in front of us carefully crafted images of the memory of what we once loved. That is not what we need.