Glory Hunting


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Somehow, i know how, a dispute over Comic Relief Funding has led to a dispute on the We All Shot Pudsey Bear Facebook Group about the independence of advocacy services. This has been rumbling for a while now and I hadn’t responded. I did last night though. I think what triggered me was the respective debaters going close to mounting a body count along the lines of more people die where advocacy services are in the local authority’s house than they do in the trust funded option. I think that might be in itself worthy of research. But at present looks like an ugly system of settling a score – even though the beliefs seem to be sincerely held.

I came back with the argument that independence can only really be judged by quality of service and that source of funding by extension is a red herring. If locally funded are you strong enough to bite the hand that feeds you? What quality standards did you compromise when putting a bid into trust funding? Advocates need to stay away from funders or at least keep them at arms length or be true to principle and indeed be prepared to die for principle. That this does not happen, that people question quality is cause for alarm.

The other cause for alarm is the sheer pretense that advocacy organisations engage in when describing process as owned by the advocacy partner/service user. These organisations are often charitable in outlook. I have complained for years that advocacy reveals itself as a white middle-class liberal enterprise. That sweeping statement encapsulates the hegemony of the charitable advocacy scheme. Process cannot be owned until the organisation is owned. The organisation won’t be owned until the status quo relinquishes power and now that we are well and truly on the path of accreditation and qualification and the white middle classes are putting effort into their certification then this is increasingly unlikely to happen.

Consequently we see advocacy morphing into many a strange shape. As an out of work advocate committed to advocacy in the shape of a disabled people’s organisation I am aware firstly that advocacy has been undermined and devalued by legislation. The Disabled People’s Act 1986 sought to prescribe what advocacy was before advocacy, itself, had set its own guiding principles. Fortunately this was never enacted. Independent Mental Health Advocates (IMHA) and Independent Mental Capacity Advocates (IMCA) complain that their role is so restricted by legislation to the extent that they are no longer advocating – just okaying a paper trial and indeed this reveals my concerns around IMHA and IMCA that fundamentally it was created to legitimise professional and institutionalised abuse. I should pre-empt criticism here by saying that I am aware of the strong advocates who stood up in spite of their restricted role and identified abuse – sadly, they look like becoming the exception rather than the rule.  Yet legislated for advocacy still seems to be a flavour that organisations who should know better choose to pursue in the foolish belief that it makes advocacy stronger. it doesn’t. It weakens it. A defined role takes you further from the freedom that the service user/advocacy partner seeks.

Relating back to the fact that I am an out of work advocacy worker seeking work has led me to sit up and notice strange vacancies. Independent NHS Complaints Advocates for one. Now here is an idea that the advocate can achieve something that is rarely achieved in the NHS, give justice to the complainant. An advocate cannot do this. An advocate can only give voice to the complainant. It is for the NHS to give justice when it has done wrong. But first the NHS needs to step away form its protectionist culture that leads to at best a series of a ‘sorry we feel you have the need to complain’ letters which is the weakest apology I have ever seen. Far better to stand up and say we have done a rigorous study of your complaint and find in your favour – surely. And wouldn’t that make a nice change. In the interim the advocate is charged with finding justice, is charged with finding outcomes that internal complaints offices, ICAS, PALS, CHC and LINks workers consistently failed to achieve – in many cases, never mind failing to return a phone call.

The other strange job that I’ve seen advertised is the Advice and Advocacy Helpline Assistant.  I can see a case for the Advice helpline but can’t see where it would access standards, empowerment standards for those who are being called in on behalf of. But advocacy? Is independence further compromised here. What criteria are the call takers working to? Certainly the value of a relationship with an advocate appears to be undermined. These are essential elements. More on the relationship. What about the advocacy alligators swimming in the waters of contract and grant funded cultures. Local schemes with good links to the people who it serves are being eaten up by these alligators who pursue strong business models, who undercut the small local advocate. Undermining yet again independence (by putting a price on it and limiting what can and cannot be done) and relationships (i don’t car who your advocate was, I’m your advocate know) and undermining service commitments (i don’t care how your advocate did it, i do it like this).

What are we doing with advocacy? Why are we doing it? 

Until we resolve these difficulties, take on the culture and stand up for advocacy I am going to have to come up with my other pearl of wisdom – the glory days of advocacy have gone. Which reminds me its been a long long time since my team last won a cup competition

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1 Comment »

  1. Tom Comerford said

    Good advocates never forget why they support others. We have no funders, but I have received 2 fines from west Midlands police for reporting abuse and neglect in supported housing scheme. As one of the victims of the abuse I am accused of wasting police time.

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