Tuesday, 29 March 2011

The Big Society? You really think so?

I've been a volunteer independent visitor (IV) for nearly 6 years, matched with the same young person - we've been friends since he was 10.

I'm not some super-hero, and I'm not some angel of mercy swooping in to "do good", I just happen to go to the cinema with a lad, watch some good films (and some really awful ones!  Little Man was a very low point, and takes first place for the worst film I've ever seen) and eat hot dogs.  We have fun, I don't know if I'm a 'role model' or a 'good influence' - and it's not about overt tags like that anyway - if I am those things it's only as a side-effect of spending a few hours together, chatting about stuff and listening to Lady Gaga...

I volunteer for a lot of reasons - not one of them is money.

When I began volunteering it was a children's charitable organisation who provided the service for the local authority, but had autonomy and independence and, crucially, was completely focused on the children who used their services.

Then the local authority decided to take the IVs back in-house and run it through a section of Children's Services.  The project co-ordinator was transferred and employed by the local authority - which is just as well since she is a brilliant person, great with the kids, has their interests so completely at the forefront of what she does - she's a true advocate for the kids that come her way...

So far so good.  To begin with, it was ok - not much seemed to change, we carried on visiting as frequently as ever.  As a volunteer I am reimbursed for out-of-pocket expenses - the things I spend when we have our day out.

2 years into my volunteering I moved from my home to another part of the country.  I asked the co-ordinator if I would be supported in this and whether I could still volunteer even though I would now be over 200 miles away.  It was agreed that as long as it was ok for me, then they would support that.

So, I started a 415 mile round trip to see him, driving for about 8 hours each time.

Then petrol prices started to steadily increase.  And the cost of servicing and maintaining the car started to increase.   

And so four years later the mileage rate was becoming was pretty inadequate, as well as being far below the amount recommended for employees, which according to best practice should be extended to volunteers. 

I mentioned this and wondered if there could perhaps be a slight increase and was very happy when our mileage rate was brought in line with council employees.  I felt valued and treated well. 

And then last year the coalition formed a government and embarked on their slash-and-burn policy of local authority budgets, backed up by the collossal lie that all public spending is BAD and MUST BE STOPPED.

A few months ago the LA suggested that I might cut down my visits from monthly to just seeing him during the holidays.  This seemed like rather a radical reduction.  I asked if this was summer and Christmas or did it include Easter and half terms as well.  They didn't know the answer to that, they hadn't really thought about it...

As it was purely budget-based rather than being at all about what might be best for me or my friend, I offered a compromise which would reduce the miles claimed - not the miles I drove, just what I claimed.

Not surprisingly this was eagerly accepted.

Today I have been told that the accountants have ordered that visits will be only every other month, that there will be limits on what can be spent during visits, and crucially a 33% cut in the mileage rate.

From next Tuesday.

Now, bearing in mind that we're talking about a volunteer activity - the keystone of Cameron's Big Society - it seems more than a little bizarre that the funding for this is being drastically reduced.  Surely volunteering activity is what 'call-me-dave' wants?  Isn't it?  Or have I TOTALLY misunderstood him?

Because cutting the service is hardly encouraging the people you've already got doing it, let alone getting new people in.

What fucks me off more than anything else is that the accountants know that none of us is going to just jack it in, none of us will say "y'know what, fuck you, I'll just not do it anymore", none of us will jeopardise the relationship we have, the one we've spent years building.  They know that and they are abusing it.

None of these new edicts are about what's best for the child, it's bean counting at it's most basic - the co-ordinator said today that she's been told that they'll do the minimum - it is a statutory duty so they can't cut it totally, but I bet they would if they could.

The service has been classed as excellent for years, the accountants said they should now aim for adequate.

Is this acceptable? 

We're talking about children who have had hard starts in life having what might the single most consistent point in their life reduced with no warning.

We're talking about children who might have no-one else that they trust.

We're talking about some of our most vulnerable members of society.

The big society?  Really?  This is how 'call-me-dave' thinks volunteering works - we do the stuff, we look after the services and the vulnerable, and he lets the rich off their tax liabilities.

I said a few months ago that I had an increasingly regular image of 'call-me-dave' and his millionaire friends rubbing their hands together and saying "what can we do next to fuck everyone up".

Today I believe this even more.

1 comment:

  1. wow. i know often you just get the toeing the party line response back, but please do write to your MP about this!