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I found myself watching a romantic comedy the other night. It's one I have seen once or twice before. Although this can be a painful experience, as I knew what was going to happen, I started to see the contradictory ideas in the film. I think these are common to this genre.
Some of the characters were talking about when it was appropriate to say 'I love you' in a new relationship. In fact, there was every expectation that sleeping with someone can happen very early in a relationship, but you should not say you love them for quite some time, maybe even years.
This would make sense, in a film like this, if relationship, commitment and family was not so significant to the film in other ways. What often happens is the film pivots on a change of perspective. Main protagonists start falling for each other when they are confronted with the community and family the other belongs to. Essentially, the person they saw before is now seen as a whole, and what is the attractive is the whole package. The human emotion - the love and commitment - is the attractive part, not so much the sexual encounter.
It is not the statement of ‘love’ which is the problem, but the uncommitted un-covenanted liaison which creates insecurity and lack of peace. It is here that the rom com reflects and promotes a failed aspect of society today. The gush of attraction is not shown up for what it is, just a gush. Community comes from a basis of strong family and committed relationships.
Strange then that the problem and solution are implicitly embedded within the film. In a way, no one learns from the tale.
When we were treated to the press conference in the garden at No. 10 in May 2010, I was lulled by the ‘together in national interest’ statements. There were various pundits talking about how Clegg and Cameron got on well and that it did not seem too hard to pull a coalition agreement together made of common desires.
The Conservatives’ back-benchers were looking increasingly unhappy with their position, and the Lib Dems - although practically in favour of coalitions, as they want some form of PR - had a nasty shock that it could put them in power alongside the Tories. Even with all that, the Government has been quite stable, but has it been a different sort of government? Has it operated in the national interest? Has it been just and cared for the weak, whilst keep the nation safe from threats internal and external?
The benefits reforms were always going to be difficult. The New Labour government was unable to achieve this and found it easier to side-step the issue. However, the changes related to Universal Credit and the ‘bedroom tax’, on top of shortages of appropriate accommodation, particularly in London, seems to be creating issues which were not there previously, or at least not to the extent they soon could be.
So, what is our role in all this? I think that as part of the greater voluntary community sector (VCS), there is a role for faith-based organisations to point out where policies are having a detrimental effect on people, particularly those who are least likely to have sufficient voice. In most sacred texts, there is a commission to protect the poor, the widows, the orphans and the aliens. These may not be the majority, and this means that we stand up for minority causes, which is a must in a democracy. Otherwise, we are swayed by populism, just like a mob.
So, what of Universal Credit and the ‘bedroom tax’? There is a need for the system to be reformed, to be made more efficient, and for work to always pay. The complexity of bureaucracy has provided a place for many people. However, Universal Credit will mean that claimants potentially have larger amounts of benefits pass through their hands on a monthly basis. They will not have been given any real guidance on budgeting and managing money, and the attraction of payday loans will be greater. This could mean that those who have managed well on the old system will now find themselves in difficulties, and it will be because of a lack of skills rather than a reduction of funds. Surely, this is an unintended consequence?
The issues around housing have caused a surge of support for minority parties such as BNP, and they are dominating MP’s surgeries in London. With more local authorities buying properties outside of their own borough and shipping people to other parts of the country, this is a problem, the repercussions of which will affect us all. I have been interested in the lack of sympathy that some have for people having to move out from their home areas. Some of those I spoke to outside of London said that it was common for children to have to move away to find work, etc. But, of course, this is still a voluntary move; although the removal from home community is still difficult. The real issue I see is one of hopelessness. East London boroughs are already moving people to seaside towns. People are taken away from the economic possibilities of London to the economic inactivity of depressed seaside locations. So, if it is not of economic benefit, is there a possibility that this is a ruse to remove London of the unemployed and working poor, a ‘cleansing’ of sorts? It is a solution as such but it seems weighed against being redemptive. This sinister conclusion probably would not even come to mind if the 50p tax rate had not been dropped and Michael Gove’s education reforms did not seem so obviously aimed at skills and to favour grammar-style middle class dominated schools.
Maybe the role of faith and VCS is to drive the economic viability of those areas where people are being deposited. There is a role to challenge injustice and to bring hope. Our task may just be beginning.
In this guest blog, Marion Janner, director of Star Wards, talks about the role that volunteers can play in mental health wards.
Mental health wards are tough places to be a patient but surprisingly enjoyable and satisfying to be a volunteer. There are a range of wards, some for particular populations e.g. young or old people, mothers and babies, and others providing specialist support for people with particular mental health needs e.g. eating disorders, while secure units have more intensive support and security for people with higher risk. Wherever a patient is, they are going through exceptionally difficult emotions and the unusualness and inevitable isolation of being hospitalised compounds matters. But volunteers can transform people’s days!
Volunteers are welcomed on most wards, as their role and relationships are very special. They bring an energy, kindness and independence which patients cherish, and staff really appreciate the extra attention and experiences that patients get. There is a huge need for volunteers from local faith communities on mental health wards, whether there is an explicit faith component to their involvement or a different focus. Many patients find their spirituality is especially important to them during an emotional crisis, one which takes them away from home, family, friends and their local community. This can be intensified if they are from a minority faith which may be unfamiliar to other patients and staff. Some wards are wonderful about trying to meet people’s spiritual needs, and hospital chaplains do a fantastic job. But other wards really struggle and support from local congregations is greatly appreciated.
There is understandable concern among potential volunteers about issues like how safe it will be, whether it will be upsetting and what support will be available. Wards themselves are concerned about these – for all staff, visitors and indeed patients. There should be strong support in place for volunteers, and an agreement about the particular role individuals take as well as good information about what the volunteer can expect, limits of their responsibilities and what they should do if they have concerns.
Most ward volunteers find that patients and staff are so appreciative of their involvement, and the activities shared are so enjoyable, that the unavoidable difficulties of the environment tend to melt into the background. But it’s definitely not for everyone!
Diane Bown, the head of volunteering for the Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust wrote:
“Volunteers are the icing on the cake. The analogy I use is to compare our volunteering programme, where volunteers visit patients and keep them company, to a fairy cake. If it’s just sponge, you can eat it, but put a bit of icing on it and it’s so much more palatable. What the volunteers do is the human, social stuff. They can sit on the wards and play Scrabble from the beginning to the end without getting called away.”
Faith related activities
An A-Z of Volunteer Roles
With thanks to Volunteering England
There are various ways of contacting a ward or hospital to explore volunteering.
Wardipedia has hundreds of examples of group and other activities for mental health inpatients, e.g. gardening, music, art. It also has a feature on spirituality; although it’s written for ward staff, it would be of interest to volunteers and others.
Spirituality and Mental Health from the Royal College of Psychiatrists. This leaflet has lots of useful insights and ideas.
This is a useful list of resources from the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ spirituality and psychiatry special interest group.
Spiritual Care and Psychiatric Treatment: An Introduction by Larry Culliford
This article looks at definitions of terms such as ‘spiritual’ and ‘religious’ and what they may mean to different people. He also lists further resources that you may find useful.
Multi-Faith Group for Healthcare Chaplaincy
Seeks to advance multi-faith chaplaincy in England and Wales. They have a useful list of resources including a comprehensive document on religious and spiritual needs for staff at Derby Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
Jewish Mental Health
This London-based resource has lots of information and ideas that go beyond both the capital and the Jewish community.
Don’t mention God! by Peter Gilbert and Natalie Watts (2006)
Explores mental health and social inclusion, looking at the NIMHE (National Institute for Mental Health in England) spirituality project.
Taken Seriously: the Somerset Spirituality Project (2002)
This is free to download report from the Mental Health Foundation website, featuring interviews and discussions with mental health service users interested in religious or spiritual beliefs.
The government is in the process of launching a series of consultations and public engagement exercises regarding the healthcare system. I have been in a number of meetings where officials have pointed out that the timing of these programmes, during the summer, is at best incompetent and at worst outright conniving. So many of us with children have work during the summer that does not fall into the usual patterns, and gathering responses from groups to the various consultations is simply unlikely to happen in the summer months.
However, we are where we are, and I was disappointed to see the instant response in one of the papers on the issue of ‘healthcare tourism’. I am not going to make any firm judgement on whether those who visit our shores should get free access to healthcare and the wider welfare state, for that is a topic for a much lengthier piece. However, the outcry seemed to be directed at any kind of change or reform. The point is we can no longer afford the system we have as a nation unless we substantially increase its income. So, the choices are to increase taxes for health and welfare - remember the largest part of welfare is pensions - or decrease costs somehow, which should be done through preventative work or increased efficiency.
This examination of how much overseas visitors should pay and how the system should extract this money led me to ask the team if the whole exercise was worth it. How much do we spend in this area? How much can we get back? Is this merely a tabloid policy - not about real solutions, but about making a noise? As you have guessed, there were no firm answers, there were no figures.
The NHS is in danger of becoming a secular religion. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a great achievement. I remember, many years ago, when we had an American youth group visiting us, one of the lads had a fall and broke his arm. Off we went to A&E and he had to sit down and wait for treatment. The group’s leader reached for his credit card and asked me who he could pay to get through the system faster. I felt somewhat proud that there was equality of experience in the A&E, but, of course, very embarrassed that the process took so needlessly long, with staff that had less hustle in them than your average fast-food joint. However, with David Cameron’s stated commitment to the N-H-S - as the three letters which summed up his priorities - we have moved a system that needs to adapt, to move to a ‘beloved aunty’ status. When the NHS played such a key role in the launch of the London 2012 Olympics, the stage was set for unreasonable adoration.
If we are too nostalgic about any institution, we fail to see when it has to change. The welfare state is somewhat a victim of its own success; when old-age pensions at 65 were introduced, the average life expectancy for men was 62. It may have looked very altruistic, but the logic was that most men would not live to enjoy pension, harsh as it may be. The health system was supposed to lead to better health, not this prolonged symptom management. Healthcare costs continue to rise as people live longer, creating more expenses for the public purse through both pensions and health care. We have to consider some changes.
It is great that people are living longer, but we need to find ways that to ensure that, even though people retire, their contribution to society is still appreciated and valued. We need to see multi-generational community re-found; retirement is merely a stage of a new phase of life.
So what about those spiralling costs? There is a mythical thinking that the rich should pay more, pay their ‘fair share’. Firstly, who determines the rich? What is their fair share? Surely by this logic, they should get a tax break for using the private care system and not clogging up the NHS. That’s fair, isn’t it? Technically, it is their money, not the state’s money, just waiting to be taxed.
We do like the idea of people contributing; the original pre-1914 national insurance enshrined this principle. Most continental systems have the same principle. ‘Obamacare’ is on the basis of contributions.
What is clear is that we cannot just say someone else has to do something! I suspect we will need to raise income, make savings by making efficiencies, and reshape healthcare to a more preventative model. But there will not be instant tabloid lead fixes. We will all need to play a part, visitors will need to pay, we will need let go our preoccupation with the local hospital and instead turn to more proactive primary health, where we looks for community based solutions, whether this be in local settings or socialisation opportunities. After all, as it has been said, ‘A problem becomes a crisis when there is no friend to call on…’
As a partner of the Department of Health, at FaithAction we want to explore how faith groups can support and improve the health and wellbeing of their communities.
You don’t have to look far to see the significance and prevalence of mental health problems in current UK society (and across the world), with the oft-quoted statistic of one in four people experiencing mental health problems at some point in their lives* and the growing number of mental health awareness campaigns (such as those by Time to Change and ReThink).
As FaithAction has sought to identify how area of mental health could best be approached by faith groups, two things stick out:
There are a number of steps that faith groups can take to reduce stigma around mental health illnesses and to proactively become places of acceptance and support. However – the effectiveness of these practical steps is dependent on the hearts and minds of individual people... the conversations which happen one-to-one; individuals taking responsibility to look out for others; to pursue deeper relationships; to be supportive and listening without judgement or pressure to change.
No structure, information leaflet, or awareness video can provide the open and caring support that is needed in a community that supports and notices those who are struggling. However, these resources can facilitate and equip faith groups looking to take practical steps into becoming more welcoming, supportive, accepting and aware.
FaithAction has produced and signposted to a number of resources which we hope will do just that. Visit our Friendly Places page to access helpful ideas, tips, videos and information.
As ever – we would love to hear stories of how your faith community has worked around increasing health and wellbeing. We use these stories and examples to show how faith provides practical solutions to the vulnerable across the country, at a national level.
Email your thoughts to email@example.com
*The Office for National Statistics Psychiatric Morbidity report 2001
Every Friday, I usually receive a news magazine that I subscribe to; however, a few weeks ago, it did not arrive. For whatever reason, my news and commentary was lost, and as I was busy ferrying kids around, I was not caught up with the news. To get up to speed, I turned to the internet news sites, in the back of my mind wondering why I had not heard any talk of Ed Miliband’s ‘One Nation’ or of course David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’.
I saw the news had just broken about the shooting and death of 12 people at the US naval shipyard in Washington, and that a report was to be published on another child killed by abusive parents in the UK. The question which no-one could answer was ‘Why?’. Inquiries will establish how and what, but no one can really fathom the motive. The question ofwhy is sometimes lost in the hunt for who to blame.
It seems that, far too often, we have a tendency to cast around for a scapegoat, instead of looking to ourselves and asking honestly, ‘What is our role as individuals, as families and as communities?’ The Secretary of State, Ed Balls, declared it one of the most important roles of the state to protect children. This sounds grand and noble, but it adds intolerable pressure on the professionals on the frontline, particularly social workers. It was pointed out to me that the way the safety agenda works in social work – whether that be child protection, or health and safety for home visits – means that it is difficult to work with families as a whole, and can lead to individual interventions and families being broken up. I am well aware that sometimes the best thing for the child is to remove them from their parents. However, as a result, the state takes on a role of nurturing which cannot be performed by an institution; society and the community must have a part to play in keeping children safe. It takes a village to raise a child. In the west, we seem to have tried to find a way around this wisdom. As a parent, I know that I need help and support; but it does not mean I am a failing parent.
To live life to the full, we need community. Many faith-based projects we come across are merely extending this truth in innovative ways. Faith provides so many with a context for community, common beliefs and world view. It is this common familial-ness which is so often the missing piece. And it is surely the missing piece to Big Society and One Nation.
This weekend I was stunned when my nan, at the good age of 92, presented me and my sister with a copy each of the Great British Bake Off book as a thank you. Now, we hadn't done anything amazing and we certainly felt it was undeserved! All we had done was to teach her how to text.
My parents, who normally keep an eye out for my nan, have been on holiday and, during that time, my sister and I both had visited my nan; but, we also taught her how to text, so she could keep in touch with my parents. This wasn't a simple task, as she will be the first to admit. It’s a completely new skill and something that she's never done before.
For us, it wasn't a big deal. She is our nan and, for me, her being able to text is excellent, as often the times I can ring are unsuitable for her. However, for her, it was a lifeline to those she can't reach normally and was a skill she can use to feel connected. It made me think about how the small things we do can have a huge impact.
So, what can you do that's small and has a big impact? How about reminding someone to put on their heating? Helping someone with their pram, or ensuring that someone has someone to talk to? These small things can make a huge difference... although, I'm not promising you’ll get a cook book out of it!
Before I am assailed by many of my colleagues from user-led and disability groups, let me come clean with what I mean by ‘independent living’. In this context, I am not thinking of the assistance which is given to those with physical disability to enable them to go about their lives without having to ask for help from another person.
What I have trouble with is the way attitudes in society are developing, alongside technological advances to enable us to live life in personalised packages isolated from everyone else. A kind of ‘airplane meal life’ where everything is wrapped up neatly in individual portions, not intended to be shared or interfered with by others. I think that mobile technology and the internet have made this type of uninterrupted living possible. Let me ask you this: when was the last time a friend popped in to see you unannounced because they were in the area? Mobile phones shield us from possible doorstep rejection, even if the rejection likely to be encountered is from an empty house. Why not have some fun visiting a friend unannounced, see them with their hair uncombed, or with the house untidy! Expect them to do the same for you.
I remember being with a group of young people 10 years ago for a study time. Before we started, and after we had finished, everyone was silently texting people not present. In fact, I bet that as soon as they left, they would texting folk they had just been sitting next to. The text was a controlled piece of communication – I often say text and email is not communication, but messaging – like the telegraph of old; it is a ‘fire and forget’ way to push information out.
This summer, I was fortunate to visit some of the most beautiful spots in the UK, the North Antrim Coastline and Pembrokeshire. At one point, I paused and looked at my wife and I and realised we were effectively viewing the scenery through our smartphone screens, rather than laying all that aside and enjoying the moment. This was very well demonstrated by the Queen’s visit to the BBC in June, where many there held out their phones to record the moment and watched it on the small screen rather than looking at Her Majesty with their own eyes1. It is fascinating when the film of the visit is compared to a previous visit in 1960s; no iPhones and more opportunity to take in the moment.
A friend recently pointed out the prophetic nature of the Simon & Garfunkel song, The Sound of Silence.
Hello darkness, my old friend,
I've come to talk with you again,
Because a vision softly creeping,
Left its seeds while I was sleeping,
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Within the sound of silence.
In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone,
'Neath the halo of a street lamp,
I turned my collar to the cold and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence.
And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more.
People talking without speaking,
People hearing without listening,
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence.
"Fools" said I, "You do not know
Silence like a cancer grows.
Hear my words that I might teach you,
Take my arms that I might reach out you."
But my words like silent raindrops fell,
In the wells of silence.
And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made.
And the sign flashed out its warning,
In the words that it was forming.
And the sign said, the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls.
And whisper'd in the sounds of silence."
This seems to be an allegory of our time.
Technology is enabling a way of controlling our interactions with others. It has a way of cocooning us and can encourage behaviour which is harmful. Sam Leith in the Evening Standard notes that the addictions to gadgets and social networking has lead a company in the USA to start digital detox camps2, focused on ‘offlining’ – people are shut away from work, gadgets and the internet. More concerning than the effect to adults and individuals is the affect to children and family life, “An entire generation is learning by observation, from infanthood, that they come second to the smartphone in the queue for parental attention3”
The Social Care white paper ‘Caring for our Future’ states: ‘more than a million people aged over 65 report feeling lonely often or always’. There are many other statistics confirming the issue of loneliness for many other groups of people. It hardly seems possible that with the growth of ‘communication’ aids, the increase in population, and the improvement over generations of living standards, that people are feeling more alone. Yet, this may well be the real result of globalisations which seemingly brings us closer but helps us segment away from one another.
In amongst this, we know that living alone, with little interaction with others, is not good for health. In fact, a fall or minor injury is made much worse and much more expensive if there is not community and family around to discover the problem and to aid in the recovery.
I say bring back the uninvited visitor, the spontaneous interaction of humans. I, for one, don’t what to live my life within the confines of a smartphone screen.
3. ^ Ibid.
Reviewing our work with the All Party Parliamentary Group on Faith and Society this week, I was struck by the main findings from our last year of work. It is clear to see how these needs are now reflected in work done both within FaithAction and by others over the past few months, and have been highlighted at a national level across the board.
Last year FaithAction brought 26 member organisations from across the country to speak to parliamentarians in Westminster about the solutions that they bring to needs within their communities, and the barriers they face in this work. We looked at a diverse body of work, from ‘welfare to work’, to ‘children and young people’ to the wider world of ‘international aid’. At FaithAction we have taken on what we’ve heard, and we want to provide practical responses.
Below we've identified some of the main issues faced by faith based organisations in service delivery – and some of the responses we have provided and observed on a national level:
FaithAction is working with the APPG on Faith and Society to form a ‘Covenant’ which can be adopted by cities across the UK. In light of new opportunities and challenges for the public, private and civic sectors that will be faced in the coming decade, the Covenant commits local authorities to the involvement of faith communities in the redesign and reshaping of public services, and faith communities in their responsibility to actively contribute to the forming of local solutions and to work in open and inclusive manner.
The Faith in the Community report published by Evangelical Alliance in June 2013 focuses on building strong working relationships between local authorities and religious communities. To this end, Evangelical Alliance is also running a series of workshops between faith groups and local councils.
The Demos report Faithful Providers, published in January 2013, looks at the role of faith groups in providing public services.
FaithAction is partnering with member organisations to form an innovation hub, identifying new technological and organisational responses to unmet needs, supporting local initiatives and user learning to influence wider change.
The Cathedral Innovation Centre is supporting faith based organisations who want to support business start-ups, job clubs, and employment support.
Do you identify with these issues? What is your organisation doing to affect community change and provide solutions to unmet needs? We would love to hear from you and to connect you up with the FaithAction initiatives highlighted above.
Email the FaithAction team at firstname.lastname@example.org or give us a call on 0845 094 6350
In the past 7 months, I have encountered hospital services twice. Each time, I have been given a survey to complete. One was after the birth of my son – definitely not a time when you want another piece of paper flung at you – and the other was when I took my friend to A&E after she had cut her hand quite severely.
The questions on the (badly-photocopied) piece of paper ranged from the cleanliness of the hospital to the politeness of the staff... but then came a question that I was not expecting: “Would you recommend this service to a friend or family member?”
Both times this question stumped me.
On 30th July, the NHS launched the results of the Friends and Family test. This test is part of the Department of Health’s Information Strategy, which looks to help share information on the NHS and Health and Social Care Services.
From now on, results of this test will be published every month on the NHS Choices website. In most cases, doctors and nurses will receive feedback on their specific department within a week of the survey being taken.
This follows the example of TripAdvisor. Launched 13 years ago, they have more than 100m hotel reviews. In a city like New York, there are more than 90,000 people each day giving feedback on local services.
Hopefully, by implementing systems such as these and harnessing the learning from the surveys, the NHS will start to see vast improvements.
So, next time you’re given a piece of paper in hospital, remember that this isn’t just another survey!