Monday 29 October 2012

Jargon and abuse

Older readers may remember the philosopher Bertrand Russell, one of the great thinkers and mathematicians of the twentieth century. Russell was born into a life of aristocratic privilege and power politics in the nineteenth century, spending part of his childhood in 10 Downing Street. In old age he was an active member of CND, even getting himself arrested.

Russell was a prolific writer, and firmly believed that no matter how complex the subject matter, it could be expressed in simple and clear language. Anyone interested in the development of political thought should read his "A History of Western Philosophy and Its Connection with Political and Social Circumstances from the Earliest Times to the Present Day".

Language mattered to Russell, and it should matter to us. Garbled and incoherent communication nearly always betrays confused thinking. Jargon and technical terms are different, and there are fields in which specialist technical terms are essential, but government and public policy are not one of them.

Caebrwyn has written about yesterday's edition of Eye on Wales which dealt with the use of jargon in government, and while it is easy to laugh about some of the dafter examples, such as multi-modal parking facilities (car parks), there is good reason to be worried about the growing thicket of jargon which surrounds our government institutions.

As linguists know, it is very common for clubs and groups to develop their own codes of communication. They create a sense of identity to those on the inside, and help keep inquisitive outsiders away. They can also erode empathy (the ability to put yourself in someone else's shoes), and the pat phrases and standard formulations can quickly lead to lazy thinking or even lack of thought.

That is how we end up with daft and unrealistic documents such as Carmarthenshire's Annual Report and Improvement Plan written, so the Chief Executive told councillors, not for the public but for the civil servants in Cardiff. These documents give us a glimpse into a world inhabited by people who have lost their grip on reality, where the jargon and formulaic phrases have created a parallel universe completely unlike the one the rest of us inhabit.

When these civil servants and senior council officers drive home, they may spot boarded up shops, roads with massive potholes and deprived neighbourhoods as they whizz past in their expensive cars, but back in the office they live in a world in which targets have been met and exceeded, and everything is getting better.

On the news this morning is a report on a Panorama programme which will be following up the Winterbourne View scandal. The victims of the abuse have been rehoused, often very far from their families, and may it seems have been subjected to further abuse.

The company which was running Winterbourne View was being paid £3,500 per week, per person to care for the people who were so horrifically abused. Some of the staff involved have received relatively mild prison sentences, but those responsible for running the home have got off scot-free and a great deal richer.

There are now calls for the creation of a new offence of corporate negligence.

In the case of Sally, the young woman who was abused in a day care centre run by Carmarthenshire County Council, nobody had to face the ordeal of a court-room appearance, although both Sally and Delyth Jenkins, the whistleblower, were physically abused by a member of the centre's staff. It was also acknowledged at the time of the Ombudsman's investigation that these were not isolated incidents.

None of the officers responsible for running the home were dismissed or even disciplined, it seems, and some have since been promoted.

The Care and Social Services Inspectorate for Wales was not and is not responsible for inspecting the centre because day centres do not come under its remit, but for those of us who witnessed the smartly dressed young woman from the CSSIW presenting her annual report on Carmarthenshire's residential care and other social care services (except the day centres), you have to wonder whether the CSSIW's involvement would have made the slightest bit of difference, as she filled the chamber in County Hall with an impenetrable fog of jargon, triangulating and triage-ing her way through.

If the inspectors cannot or will not make themselves clear and understood, what hope is there for the "clients"?

The programme Eye on Wales can be found here.


Delyth Jenkins said...

I have no confidence whatsoever in the CSSIW. I wrote to them before they carried out their inspection following the damning report by the Ombudsman and informed them that I had been hit over the head by the same care worker that had assaulted Sally 13 months later, although they would have known this before as both assaults featured in the Ombudsman's report. I also told them how the assault on me was never investigated even though I provided the Council with a statement from a colleague who witnessed the assault.

I later wrote to the Deputy health Minister and asked to meet with her but she didn't respond but asked the CSSIW to respond on her behalf. I was informed amongst other things that it was inappropriate for the deputy health minister to meet with me.
It seems that everyone is passing the buck and you would never believe that we are talking here about a service for vulenrable, defenceless service users with learning disabilities.

Anonymous said...

Delyth, you are a true inspiration. Don't lose heart and keep up this sustained campaign as eventually you will bring about much needed change.

Delyth Jenkins said...

Thank you Anon. I have been overwhelmed by the support I have received from the public since the Taro 9 programme as most people were unaware until then of what had really gone on. One of the lowest points for me was being yelled at by the Chief Executive of Carmarthenshire County Coucil to "back off a bit". As you can imagine, I was feeling particularly fragile at the time as I had just gone off sick two weeks previously at the end of my tether, unable to take anymore of the psychological abuse being dished out. My treatment is a heartbreaking one, but what I want to focus on now is ensuring that the care of vulnerable adults changes for the better for good, and this has to start now with the removal of the management structure who failed so miserably. They must not be given a second chance. I will not give up until I see massive changes to this service and until vulnerable people are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.