Watching Question Time from my old stamping-ground of North-East Wales this week (Paine the Elder and I used to have season tickets to Wrexham AFC when I was a lad) was a dispiriting experience. I could barely contain myself as, commenting on the care homes scandal, a Plaid Cymru MP droned pompously that;
"Once the profit motive takes over from the giving of service, that kind of thing is more prevalent".
Most of the audience in a solidly Old-Labour area seemed to agree with him. Even after their ideology was tested to destruction on more than half of humanity in the 20th Century; killing millions and impoverishing hundreds of millions, there are still idiots who believe in the intrinsic moral superiority of state-run services. Even, can you believe, in a part of the world where childrens homes were run for twenty years by local authority-employed paedophiles (as I have posted before)? The social workers in question were not motivated by profit, so presumably that's all right then? I despair.
When I worked in Eastern Europe in the early 1990s, a colleague had a serious road accident while exploring the countryside one weekend. The people sent to help found him in a bad way in the local hospital. Knowing how health care in that country had worked under Communism (and still did at that point) he asked to be left a supply of $100 bills so he could bribe the staff not to let him die. Those nurses were motivated by profit for sure, but the organisation running the hospital wasn't.
When can we bury these ludicrous (and insulting) notions that people are ping-pong balls wafted around by social, political and economic winds? My blood boiled particularly as a woman in the QT audience said the people who committed the care home abuses were "...probably on minimum wage..." while somebody made "...a fat profit..." I can hardly conceive of a less relevant observation.
Right is right and wrong is wrong regardless of motive. Profit made by people for doing good work is good. Profit made by cheating customers of the service they pay for (whether it's plumbing, rubbish collection or the care of vulnerable family members) is wrong. The same applies to wages earned by employees in public service, whether on the "front line" or in management. None of the wicked behaviours captured by Panorama's hidden cameras would have been less so if filmed on NHS or local authority premises (as the BBC could easily have done) or even in a charity home run by unpaid volunteers.
If carers neglect or abuse the people they are paid to look after, then the issue is not whether their bosses were motivated by profit for their shareholders, or by a desire for a cushy job-for-life with an unfunded pension. The issue is their wicked behaviour, for which they are directly responsible (both as a matter of civil and criminal law) and their employer is vicariously liable. Heads should roll, contracts should be cancelled and the local authority supervisors who failed to monitor the service they were paying our money for should be disciplined.
It's a little depressing that the debate has not moved on in that part of the world in the thirty or so years since I moved away.