This is probably a sacrilegious view to hold for someone who works in a university, but I am deeply ambivalent about the current strike action – I can see the need for cuts and changes, but also feel that there is quite a bit of ideology and unfair targeting of these cuts. But that isn’t what this post is about – it is about the opposing messages that are being sent out by Government which are talked about on occasion but never given the true devotion in the press that they fully deserve.
I’m going to take two cases – nurses and teachers – purely because I know a fair bit about them and the role in general.
First of all, teaching – for the past few months/years we have been continuously told in the press that standards are dropping, that teaching standards are falling, and all the rest of the media hype. Politians and media commentators alike lament the standard of entrants into teacher training, with stories about how they can’t do basic 3R tests, etc. So surely we should be doing all that we can to improve both the standard of entrants and the standard of teaching? But how is that going to happen when the very same politicians who bemoan current standards also gleefully erode the attraction of the job?
Quite simply, can anyone point me to a business model where the company has said ‘our product is selling poorly, let’s put the price up and erode the quality of the product’? One that hasn’t resulted in bankruptcy anyway. Because that is what is basically happening – if you couldn’t attract the best people to the jobin the first place, cutting their wages (because that is what it all adds up to – paying more for pensions and wage freezes), asking them to work longer and generally denegrating their role in society is hardly likely to make those who didn’t want to do the job in the first place to have a change of heart.
And so, a vicious circle begins (or continues) whilst, at the same time, those very same politicians and social commentators decry our academic fall behind other countries who have the temerity to be actually investing in the education of their younger generations, even in these austere times. President Obama announced ‘those who out-educate us today will outperform us tomorrow’ – well, quite simply you reap what you sow.
On to our next group – nurses, and I’m also going to include healthcare assistants here as well because they do many of the jobs that we automatically ascribe to a nurse when we think about their role in a hospital. A few months back there was criticism from many quarters over the role of nurses; whether they need degrees in nursing when they should be providing basic care which requires more vocational training, etc. The call for nurses to be nurses could even be argued to be reasonable in some cases, but once again we have this problem with the Government message.
Quite simply, who wants to be a 68 year old ward nurse or healthcare? Come to that, who wants to be treated by one in an emergency? What comfort will it be to be told ‘we’re really sorry your loved one died, but the nurse trying to save her couldn’t do the job properly because her arthritis was playing up’? So the only way to avoid working on the ward, doing all the heavy stuff that a person half their age will find demanding, is to either get into a managemtn position or into a role that requires less strenuous activity. But how is that helping? To get into management you need to be doing things to prepare you for that – ergo, you are not fully focused upon the primary job you are meant to be doing, nursing and caring. If people are being put into a role based upon their ability to do strenuous activity rather than actually do the job competently, is that any way to run things at their optimum?
In both cases, what are the options for the 65 year old teacher, nurse or healthcare? For quite a few I would imagine that it will involve being put off work sick, possibly long-term. That’s the one where you have to pay the wages but don’t get any of the work done in return and also can’t afford to pay someone to take their place. That’s a good, effective use of money – has this been looked at by the Givernment or the other bodies that calculate all of this stuff? They seem quite happy to model everything else!
There is also an interesting thing for many public sector workers to keep an eye on – because, sadly, there is now going to be an increased possibility of people dying whilst still of working age. Quite a few public sector contracts have a ‘death in service’ life insurance part, to be paid out to the family if someone dies whilst still at work. However, I would imagine that the amount which would have to be paid out under those terms will start to skyrocket – and that is going to cost quite a bit of money. Does anyone honestly think that those in charge are going to miss a trick by allowing that part of the contract to cost them even more money?
Those with a death in service payment in their contract, I’d keep a close eye on it over the next few months and years if I were you!