The Formula

There is probably a formula in policy studies that expresses the gap between the rights and entitlement of vulnerable people to certain level of service, and the quality and quantity of the service that they are actually receiving. Its the gap that Steve Broach writes about regularly in his blog RightsinReality and it is something  that shapes the everyday lives of everybody who is dependent upon the help of governments in order to live anything like an ordinary life.

If it does exist this formula will have number of constants, variables and ratio’s in it. For example there will be an inverse relationship between overall levels of “funding” and the size of the gap. In times of plenty we might expect the gap between rights and reality to shrink – although given the tendency for the industry of care to absorb additional funding without the benefits of that funding being passed onto vulnerable people themselves – we obviously can’t expect the relationship to be direct. It is more likely that for every £2-3 of additional funding £1 will get spent on the person concerned.

The next thing that would need to be fed into the formula would be the relative efficiency of the government public relations machine. The more effective it is in creating the illusion of provision, the greater the gap between rights and reality becomes. In order to achieve this efficiency a government requires the agreement and loyalty of its civil and public services. This doesn’t mean that they can’t challenge the government it just means that they have to do it within the bounds of certain parameters – they can rock the boat but they always have to remember that they are also dependent on it for their own livelihoods.

Nevertheless for the public relations consensus to be truly effective the government has to co-opt other players into the process. These “stakeholders” will be in the media, in the voluntary sector and increasingly in co-opted stakeholder groups. They will of course get a piece of the action and in return for that they will accept the need to be buy into the agenda of the day. A government’s ability to co-opt non governmental organisations has been facilitated by the growth in the role of the voluntary sector in service delivery and competition for government contracts.

Other ways in which the growth of the gap can be supported involves restricting access to data – for example by reducing  the remit of the Audit Commission or indeed closing it altogether, and of course by making University funding restrictive and increasingly competitive. Then of course there is the strategy of restricting legal aid and judicial review. All of this helps governments to conceal the discrepancy between rights and reality but occasionally things slip – another child in care may die or an organisation may get filmed brutalising vulnerable people – and then a different kind of strategy has to kick in.

Mark Neary covered this fall back process brilliantly in his blog: Bubble, Hell and Squeak . When things go wrong there are templates and taskforces and endless expressions of dismay and perhaps then the gap between rights and reality might close a little – probably no more than a nanometre – before the spotlight moves on and nothing really changes. But Mark Neary is right about another thing – it is time to use the law we have.

We need to measure the gap between our rights and our reality. We need to find out just how many individuals and families are having their rights ignored and then we need use the law, legal aid and crowd funding to make our rights a reality. The formula that allows a government to hide the reality of its citizens lives only works if we allow it to – it only works if people are unable to share the reality of their experiences and to measure those experiences against the rights and entitlements that we already have.