The words ‘Nanny State’, perhaps augmented by an ‘overweening’ must be the most overworked in the lexicon of ‘Nu-Labour’ descriptions. Today I bring you surprising news of how ‘entirely relaxed’ they can be regarding the affairs of some citizens. What is more interesting, given their predilection for reordering the world according to the needs of the cheeeldren, is that these citizens were children themselves mere weeks or scant months ago.
Think back to the time when you were 16, 17, or maybe a late developer, 18 even. You were just about to spread your wings. For a lot of people, that means taking off to university, driven there by Mum and Dad, with a case full of new clothes bought by Mum, a box of goodies to stave off malnutrition, Dad helping to lug the stereo up stairs, Mum fretting over the quality of the bedding. All followed up by anxious phone calls, perhaps even a visit or two to ensure that you are surviving the three months until you return to the bosom of your family to be fed properly once again, clothes washed, treated and indulged to make up for your absence.
For a lucky few, leaving home means a flat in town bought by Mum and Dad, furnished and subsidised, to return to as they struggle with the unfamiliar world of a new job. Not all are so fortunate, some have to search out a shared flat themselves, with a wonky gas stove, and a regular argument over phone bills. They still have the support of Mum and Dad though, birthday cards arrive on the dot, they go home for Christmas, there is someone on the end of the phone to listen to their problems and cheer their successes. They have a safety net.
The best part of 50 years ago, I officially left ‘care’ – (I have to admit I had unofficially managed to leave some three years earlier, but this time I was ‘regularising’ my estrangement from the caring arms of the State!) Social workers didn’t exist then, so I was shown how to find advertisements for ‘rooms to let’ near to the place where I had secured employment. I was given a train warrant to get myself to London, along with a small suitcase – and off I went into the big wide world. The room turned out to be a spare room in a house in Brixton owned by a charismatic brothel owner called Beryl. It was where ‘her girls’ slept during the day. I came to no harm, more by luck than judgement, and gradually managed to improve my lot in life, via more than a few hair raising adventures.
There was no safety net, no birthday card, no Dad to come and put a shelf up, no Mum to return to at Christmas, in fact no one ever contacted me again to see whether I had survived.
I hear you clucking – ‘times were hard 50 years ago’ – indeed they were, but we survived. What might surprise you is that for those leaving ‘care’, the only thing that has changed is for the worse.
No longer do you pick your own accommodation, nowadays a social worker allocates you something from the local authority rota. Thus 16 year olds can find themselves billeted in bail hostels – yes, really – alongside the mentally disturbed, the drug addicted, the criminally intentioned. Overnight they move from the supervised world of foster carers, and inspected homes, to – whatever…..there is no minimum standard of accommodation specified, not even that the accommodation should be private, should have a lock on the door, or even a working key. Not even in a bail hostel.
Not for those in care, the luxury of falling out with their parents and deciding to leave home, as many people do. Not for them the excitement of deciding to go to university, after a gap year or whatever. The decision is made for them by the date on their birth certificate. They are 16, an adult in the eyes of the state. A person who can exist without any safety net.
All my life I have heard people exclaiming ‘oh, my parents are useless’, or ‘my brother is a total pain’ – but they are there, to be useless, or a pain; to recognise you, listen to you, argue with you, or simply not look surprised if you turn up on the doorstep on Christmas Day.
For those leaving care at 16, none of that applies. ‘Care’ simply ceases.
Belatedly, Helen Southworth, the Labour MP for Warrington South, has had a Bill accepted under the 10 minute rule – 10 minutes that she used to devastating effect, with an impassioned speech for at least minimum standards in the accommodation that children leaving care go to, and a definition as to what is ’suitable’.
This will do nothing to address the lack of emotional support or even friendship that these young adults lack, but it will at least mean that ‘home’ is clean and safe, that they can lock themselves in at night, that if they are lucky enough to make it to university, the transition between the inspected and regulated university accommodation and the place that they return to as ‘home’ in the holidays is not too traumatic, and that they are physically safe.
The Bill will get a 2nd reading on the 12th March, I shall be listening, if only to understand how things could possibly have got worse after 50 years of the welfare state.
- First Class posts on Wednesday Letters From A Tory
- January 27, 2010 at 21:49