Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Stop, watch! Olympics, Elitism and Winterbourne View

A stopwatch is a useful thing. It can show us in fine detail what matters. Tonight, amidst Olympic glory, it showed us something has gone very wrong.

At 11:00 am today, the serious case review into the appalling abuse at Winterbourne View was released. Earlier , Mencap and the Challenging Behaviour Foundation launched their report, “Out of Sight” which flagged up that Winterbourne View was one part of a potentially huge problem. These reports aren’t just important if you are in residential care services. If you will be in residential care in the future, or know someone who might be, or work in social care, or just give a damn about dignity, rights and respect, this is a story for you.

So where does the stopwatch come in? Well, I’m not so na├»ve as to think that a landmark low in our treatment of marginalised people will outstrip the achievements of Olympians. And no, I’m not being sniffy about sport, I love sport, always have. I might think that the ongoing abuse of numerous people in our society is more important, but that’s my call.

But the stopwatch comes in when you see how the story was cut, particularly how it set out to learn the lessons from Winterbourne and listen to someone who had the courage to blow the whistle on what was happening.  Terry Bryan took this risk because he cared about what care is meant to be, and he did it again and again. It might have been worth listening to him.  BBC news at 10 gave him 2 seconds. OK, I didn’t have a stopwatch but it wasn’t any longer than that. That can’t be right can it? And how much time did it give to the reports the police ignored, the admissions to A&E that the local hospital didn’t spot a pattern in? None for the first, little for the second. That doesn't seem like reporting that changes things, there's no learning, no depth. It looks more like shock and run. 

Tonight, Newsnight is talking about elitism in sport. The serious case review isn't mentioned. So let's  look at the wider problem of elitism. It seems that if you have care needs of any kind you’re going to be way down the pecking order.  Shunted out of area, placed where choice is removed from you, at greater risk of abuse. As a society we turn our attention away, and the media is complicit in this.

We who are more able to get things talked about need to keep social care, disability, work capability assessments, abuse and that whole bunch of forbidden topics on the agenda. Look at the coverage, get your stop watches out, and if the balance seems wrong, speak up.


  1. I couldn't agree more. The UK public has shown a number of things in relation to Winterbournd & the Olympics:

    The public is genuinely outraged;
    The national attention span is short;
    Most people obediently direct their interests to whatever the media presents.

    But we bloggers and tweeters are also media outlets. We're small fry in comparison but persistence is a wonderful thing.

  2. I think there's a point here and it is important that the issues in the SCR are raised and raised loudly and clearly. Mainstream media has never particularly shown an interest in social care however without Panorama who knows how long the abuse would have continued.

    We need to make our own noise.

  3. Great piece Martin and definitely agree that people in the sector should be scrutinising mainstream media coverage for content, weighting and balance, and shouting about it on social media and elsewhere.
    We also had Winterbourne View being described as a "care home", which had me shouting at the television (particularly as Margaret Flynn repeatedly makes clear the importance of the hospital/care home distinction).
    One thing I would say is that the SCR - unlike last year's Panorama - is pretty complex and technical stuff. I spent five hours poring over it and I really don't think my 1,000 words scratched the surface. Understanding that complexity and then persuading broadcast editors of its significance in a few hours would be pretty challenging at the quietest of times. But at Olympic time, it seems a really tall order.

    1. Thanks Mithran, I think we've all been screaming at the TV over the last few days, for good and bad reasons. I take the point about complexity but I think there are some themes that could have been drawn out here. For example, "police ignored calls for help", "a&e staff missed a pattern of abuse", "carers fear ignored and sidelined", and most importantly "institutionalised, out of sight care really doesn't have a great track record when it comes to abuse".

      And let's face it, it's not just social care that's being drowned out. The Mars rover team would also have a good right to complain. But geek though I am, I'm more concerned about the SCR.

      As StuartSorensen and Ermintrude point out, we're going to have to make our own noise, and keep it going for some time

  4. Good post Martin. Agree about the exposure but I'm not convinced exposure in the media and educating joe public actually changes anything unless it's an issue that affects the majority. It becomes important for folk when it actually affects them, like taxes health and education.

    The main issue for me is what action is taken to change the system of care for people with learning disabilities. Our economic system pretty much precludes ousting the private sector so commissioning and inspection are the keys to the door for me. Training, accreditation and terms and conditions for staff of these types of units could also be dictated and controlled to a degree by purchasers. In my opinion its practical as well as cultural. The media can heighten awareness but they ain't going to change it. Good post

  5. Thanks for what you do and for all that you give us.\

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