Friday, August 29, 2008

Because work just isn't pressured enough.

Friday night! Yay! Home from work! And on my doormat is the new copy of Inside Housing, the trade journal for people working in Social Housing. Yes, I read a trade journal and yes, I will be 30 next year...

Tonight's headline was "James Mitchell was killed by his neighbour after a six-year feud. Should his landlord have done more to protect him?". A tenant, after suffering anti-social behaviour from his neighbour for a number of years, was killed by his neighbour after his neighbour was warned that he may be evicted for his behaviour. The tenant's family are now suing the council involved for failing to care for the tenant by warning him that they were going to speak to the neighbour.

I spend a lot of my time at work, but not as much as I would like, dealing with anti-social behaviour. I have, at any one time, between 10 and 15 ASB cases open. We are obliged to investigate any complaints we receive, though not necessarily solve them. It's harder than I think people imagine to deal with. I have to consider the confidentiality of both the complainant and the subject, deal with counter-complaints and try to get evidence of what is going on, while remaining impartial. Often the person being complained about will deny all the allegations and provide a completely different story. Sometimes I have to work with other agencies such as the police or mental health professionals. People are not always co-operative, for a range of reasons. All this for 10-15 different cases, some quite complex, some reasonably minor - and it's sometimes the more minor cases where people make more of a fuss.

Every time I hear a story about violence following neighbour disputes, I feel a sense of fear. I can imagine this happening in cases I deal with. I have to try to work out how to investigate and how to progress cases. My job is to investigate, not to decide who to believe, and it can be very difficult. I love doing this and find it very interesting, but it is a huge responsibility, dealing with the most difficult parts of people's lives - I'm not always sure who I am to be doing this.

And this is just part of my job.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Most Fun Ever. In the world. Ever.

I loved many things about Greenbelt this year.  Work has, as regular readers may have noticed, made me a little cynical, and Greenbelt has helped to return the joy of helping people.  As support stewards, we help by wandering around being a presence, we help Greenbelters by being available and dealing with situations as they happen, and we help other stewards by providing a bit of support where it's needed.  And we help each other with a large dose of mocking.  It works for everyone, I think.

Not everyone appreciates us, however.  One kind man spent ten minutes explaining to Guilty and me that what we were trying to do was pointless and offered to spend the whole night following us around to point this out.  As we were planning to have officially The Most Fun Night Stewarding Ever*, we declined his kind offer.

It's been quite a quiet year, mainly - I'm sure we've looked for more lost children in one night in previous years than we did in the whole festival this year - possibly because there were a few occasions when we reunited parents and children before we managed to get the radio call out.  But we've done some things which I'm really quite proud of.  We found a mother wandering round in the rain with her small boy at 1 am as the sound of the rain on the tent was scaring him, and we re-directed her to somewhere safer to spend the night.  We dealt with a few people who had spent longer in the beer tent than was good for them and stopped them causing more problems for themselves and others.  We helped some girls who had lost their tents in the middle of the night.  We gave directions, smiled a lot, pointed out toilets and wandered round the campsites drinking Greenbelters' coffee (really, the best way to get moved off a campsite is to get a full cup of coffee), eating their cake and being the friendly face of Greenbelt.

What I remember most about Greenbelt is spending time with my team, talking and messing about, having loads of fun and getting caught doing silly things by my team leaders when really I should be looking responsible...  But I feel proud about the added bonus of helping Greenbelters to have a better festival.

*With some success, I might add.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


I am back from Greenbelt.  I had the BEST time ever, in the world, ever.  I have had a bath and do not smell any more.

I did some awesome things.  I also did some... other things.  Here's a short list:
  1. I got caught by my team leaders pretending to be a horse and doing an olympic-style dismount from a pub bench, in the space of 40 minutes, the latter following the 'awesome timing' phrase, "I'm glad Zippie and Merlin didn't see that".
  2. I had an opportunity to tell someone not to set themselves on fire again.
  3. I nearly got to set a gazebo on fire but Rob Safety wouldn't let me.  I think Guilty would have let me.
  4. I may have been caught having a small sit-down on the campsite when I was supposed to be patrolling.
  5. I pretended to mourn (loudly) a boy who pretended to die.  This was necessary.  I didn't ask him if he was a horse.
  6. I nearly got run over by a fire-engine.  Twice.  And by Merlin once.
  7. I fell over in the mud.
  8. I learnt to play cat's cradle.  Honestly, don't bother.  It is the most pointless activity ever.
  9. I didn't poke anyone in the eye.
  10. I may have been a bit annoying.  Occasionally.
I love support team...

Monday, August 11, 2008

Nice decisions

I listened to last Friday's Any Questions? and found myself very disappointed in Billy Bragg.  Usually he's got passionate and interesting opinions.  But not on the issue of NHS funding, it would seem.

There was a discussion about NICE, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, who decide whether medicines should be licenced for prescription in the UK, based on a cost-per-years-of-life-gained basis.  These are the people who decide whether you should get expensive cancer treatments, among other things.

Do they do a good job?  I don't know whether they do the best job they could do - I don't have any experience of their work.  I think they do a very difficult job...

Billy Bragg argued that what they do is fundamentally wrong - that you cannot put a value on life, that the NHS was set up to fund treatment, and that if you can't fund the treatment people need, you have your priorities wrong and should put more money into the NHS, presumably until you can.  He said that if treatment cost £100,000,000 (yes, really, a hundred million) for an extra year, it should be provided.

That's a nice thought to have.  But not feasible.  We don't have an endless amount of money to spend on the NHS.  And there is a near-infinite amount of money required to treat every illness.  

NICE is about resource allocation and opportunity cost.  If you spend money on one medicine, it isn't just about the cost of that medicine, it's about what you are giving up in order to provide that medicine.

And health goes so much further than just medicine.  That £100,000,000 pounds could be spent, for example, to build more houses.  Into those houses could go families currently living in overcrowded accommodation, which are damp due to the overcrowding and which make the children ill due to the damp.  

No-one is going to stand by and choose to die when they know there's a medicine out there which can help them to live.  People are going to fight for the treatment which will keep the people they love alive for longer.  Once it's you it's emotive.  That's why we need an organisation like NICE to make those decisions rationally.  Let's have a discussion about how they do that and the values they apply to make their decisions.  But let's not claim that it's wrong to make those decisions. 

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Not pleasing

I work for a housing association, managing about 450 properties on a fairly nice estate.  I deal with tenants' enquiries, complaints and problems.  I'm the face of the housing association for most of my tenants.

The advert for my job said that I would have to be passionate about helping people.  I really am.  I came into the job wanting to change society at an individual level.  I think a lot of people get a bad start in life and have an impaired ability to make good choices.  I think people must be held responsible for their behaviour, but there needs to be some recognition of the circumstances that have shaped them.

I'm finding my job quite difficult.  I have to give people difficult answers, tell them we won't be doing everything they want - or at least, not just yet.  I tell them that their behaviour is having an unacceptable impact on their community.  I try to understand why people fell how they do, explain decisions in a way that makes sense, and represent their opinions to other people in the company.

For this, I get told that my answers are pathetic, that they will hold me personally responsible for the death of family members, that I wouldn't be prepared to live like that.  I have tenants hang up on me when they don't like the answer I give, or tell me that all they are asking for is everything they want, straight away.  

I find it hard because one of the things that drives me is a desire to make people happy.  I understand that sometimes this is a case of making the best of a bad situation - making people happier than they would have been had I not explained things properly to them.  But I feel like I really am pleasing none of the people, all the time.

Friday, August 01, 2008

6 years!

We had our 6th wedding anniversary on Sunday.  We like to give each other presents related (vaguely) to the traditional gifts.  Guess what's traditional for 6?

We already had the most sugar in the world due to some unfortunate miscalculating when I did the cooking for a weekend away.  Now we have some more.

I haven't ever read Sugar.  I hope I never have to again.

More welcome but with less spelling accuracy - two Sugababes albums.

Chocolates - mmm - and they're made of sugar...

Two lush bath-bombs.  No sugar-relatedness at all.  But very nice.  

Not sugar-related but will last slightly longer than the chocolate.  Or the sugar.