Thursday, August 6, 2009

Nanny State Fascism Arrives In Britain

It's a commonplace — and well-founded — truth that social/political trends in the UK often become mainstream in the U.S. a generation later. It's with great trepidation, even horror, therefore that I feel obligated to highlight a recent news story in the Daily Express. It outlines a not-entirely-new program for the government to place cameras inside private homes to monitor the inhabitants.

These are not criminals, but parents who may or may not, according to the government, be treating their children properly. Are they suspected of beating them? No. That would be bad enough; a form of preventative law. Instead, the pols are concerned that the children are not eating right, going to bed on time, not being given the proper lessons in values, and so forth.

THOUSANDS of the worst families in England are to be put in “sin bins” in a bid to change their bad behaviour, Ed Balls announced yesterday.

The Children’s Secretary set out £400million plans to put 20,000 problem families under 24-hour CCTV super-vision in their own homes.

They will be monitored to ensure that children attend school, go to bed on time and eat proper meals.

Private security guards will also be sent round to carry out home checks, while parents will be given help to combat drug and alcohol addiction.
It sounds like something out of The Onion — or Nazi Germany — but I'm reliably told by my British correspondent that this story is on the level. (That the minister pushing this has the title Children's Secretary, and is named Ed Balls, is just too rich. As a novelist, paraphrasing Rand, if I put this in a story I'd be accused of outrageous exaggeration.)

Worse, it's not being met with much in the way of outrage. Apparently, this sort of thing is now commonplace in the country that once deserved the name Great Britain. This kind of Nanny State fascism is worrisome, nay horrendous, for dozens of reasons that readers of his blog need not have spelled out. But it should serve as a warning for what the U.S. is likely to become — unless it's firmly resisted — in about 30 years.

[Correction:] According to Sec. Ed Balls, via Peter Cresswell at Not PC the Daily Express story is not entirely correct. There are, according to Mr. Balls, no plans to install cameras. But what they are planning is not much better, if one is to believe the government's own website. To wit:
While projects vary in the services they provide, they share key features which distinguish the family intervention project model.

The key worker is central to the projects. Their role is to manage or ‘grip’ the family’s problems, co-ordinate the delivery of services and using a combination of support and sanction to motivate the family to change their behaviour. Persistence and assertiveness with families is critical to keeping them engaged and following agreed steps.

If families start to disengage, services are stepped up and the key worker redoubles his/her efforts where mainstream services often withdraw. This comes as a shock to families who are often used to services pulling away and sends out a powerful signal to families that the service is not an optional extra.

A contract (also known as a behaviour support agreement) is drawn up between the family and key worker which sets out the changes that are expected, the support that will be provided in order to facilitate that change and the consequences if changes are not made, or tasks are not undertaken.

The use of sanctions is an important lever for motivating families to change. Demoting tenancies or gaining possession orders suspended on the basis of compliance with the projects or, for some, the very real prospect of children being taken into care, can provide the wake up call to take the help on offer. Too often these families have been told that action will be taken but is then not followed through, creating a sense among family members that they are untouchable.

These are intensely practical projects which focus on providing a structure for those living in chaotic circumstances – teaching parents basics such as how to get children up and fed in the morning, clearing up, preparing meals and bed time routines. Families are often learning these for the first time. Families report that their day to day skills such as cooking, hygiene and daily routines had often been taken for granted by other agencies.
Frankly, cameras might be preferable to veiled threats and constant hectoring from 'well-meaning' social workers with the power to withdraw welfare services.

We report, you decide.

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