How hundreds of patients are dying of thirst in NHS hospitals
The story of a 22-year-old who died in hospital from dehydration shocked Britain. But his tragedy is horrifyingly common
The reports last week of Kane Gorny’s final hours beggared belief. The 22-year-old had been admitted to one of the UK’s top teaching hospitals for hip replacement surgery, but within three days he’d died of thirst, after medical staff ignored both his pleas for water and the symptoms of dehydration that experts say are ‘easy to recognise’.
When Kane, in desperation, rang 999 on his mobile, a policeman who responded to his call witnessed him shouting repeatedly to the nursing staff: ‘Can I have some water?’
Kane had a form of diabetes that hampered his body’s ability to retain fluid. Yet the response of doctors and nurses on the ward was to sedate him, without giving him intravenous fluids or monitoring him as he lay unconscious.
The inquest into Kane’s death in May 2009 at St George’s Hospital, Tooting, in South London, has caused an outcry.
First and foremost, there has been widespread condemnation of the extraordinary inhumanity of staff who refused water to a dying man left immobile and unable to get out of bed as a result of surgery.
Equally alarming, however, is that these healthcare professionals failed to recognise the symptoms of dehydration, or to appreciate the significance of his desire for water. Instead, according to the coroner, nurses ‘felt he had a fixation with water’.
The story has appalled health campaigners. ‘What on earth do they teach nurses and doctors today if not the fundamental importance of keeping patients hydrated?’ says Roger Goss, co-director of Patient Concern. ‘It’s completely unbelievable that the dangers of dehydration — known to every mother — are not being inculcated in the nursing profession.
‘Every health professional should be making it a top priority to keep patients properly hydrated.’
Worryingly, Kane’s tragic death is an extreme example of a far more widespread problem: patients simply aren’t getting enough water.
‘We’re all aware of the importance of drinking plenty of water, as it’s essential to digestion, absorption of nutrients and the elimination of toxins and wastes,’ says dietician Rick Wilson of the British Dietetic Association. ‘Yet healthcare staff too often ignore the huge importance of hydration for hospital patients.
‘Hospitals today are hot, dry buildings where people can become dehydrated quickly anyway. ‘Add to that the fact that many patients are recovering from surgery that is frequently preceded by several hours of “nil by mouth”; they may have multiple disorders affecting hydration levels; or they may be confused, unwell or physically unable to sit up and help themselves to a drink.’
Without water, even a healthy person’s body starts to feel the effects within hours, especially in hot weather. ‘The risk of becoming dehydrated is actually no greater for sick people, but the consequences are likely to be more serious,’ says Dr Tim Bowling, a gastroenterologist and nutritional expert.
Even moderate dehydration, characterised by a dry mouth, headache, dizziness on standing up and passing more concentrated urine, causes severe problems for hospital patients. It is linked to pressure ulcers, which can develop in a matter of hours once the padding over bony points starts to shrink.
It also raises the risk of falls caused by low blood pressure and confusion, and of urinary tract infections. It also means blood clots are more likely to form, because lack of fluid makes the blood thick and sticky. All these are potentially dangerous and hugely expensive complications of drinking too little water.
Meanwhile, severe dehydration — signs include confusion, incoherence, nausea and vomiting — is a leading contributory factor in acute kidney injury (previously known as acute kidney failure).
This is a ‘predictable and avoidable emergency diagnosis that should never occur’ according to a report by the National Confidential Enquiry into Patient Outcomes and Death published in 2009.
Yet acute kidney injury affects one in five people admitted to hospital, with five in 100 in-patients developing acute kidney failure that can lead to permanent damage to the kidneys and eventually to death.
The disease costs the Health Service £500 million a year — which is more than lung and skin cancer together.
‘Dehydration is a huge problem that significantly increases a patient’s risk of dying in hospital,’ says Dr Mark Thomas, a nephrologist at Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust.
Dehydration was a contributory factor in the deaths of 816 hospital patients in England and Wales in 2009, according to the Office for National Statistics — ‘a terrible indictment of the NHS’, said Katherine Murphy of the Patients’ Association.
A Royal College of Nursing report, Water For Health, published five years ago, warned ‘dehydration can cause rapid deterioration requiring complex, costly and invasive clinical interventions, with many patients suffering devastating long-term outcomes, resulting in loss of independence and dignity’.
While hospital food is often in the news, water is a more critical problem, says Dr Bowling, because ‘the effects of dehydration have much quicker manifestations than malnutrition’.
In recognition of this problem, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) is to issue its first hydration guidelines next year.
So how is it that something as fundamental as ensuring that patients are getting enough fluid is going wrong?
Much of the blame for dehydration problems has been laid at the door of Britain’s 300,000 healthcare assistants, who are largely untrained and therefore unaware of patients’ needs, while ‘too posh to wash’ nurses with degrees see themselves as overly qualified to get involved with the everyday needs of patients.
Yet such a blame game ignores the widespread ignorance of senior staff. ‘For sure, healthcare assistants need better training, but so do doctors, especially junior doctors, and nurses,’ says Dr Bowling.
While it may be rare for hospital patients to be left without water jugs, far more common is a failure to understand that patients may need help to drink that water.
‘We’ve all seen committed, caring staff putting the water in the jug and even pouring the water into a cup when the patient is not able to drink it,’ says dietitian Rick Wilson.
At extra risk of dehydration are infants, whose low body weight makes them sensitive to even small amounts of fluid loss, and older people who don’t feel thirst as keenly or are too poorly to manage a water jug beside their bed. Such people may even deliberately avoid drinks, fearing they will need a bedpan later on.
Those recovering from surgery can also be at risk — often simply because they don’t like to ask for help.
Rachel Berryman, 32, a personal assistant from Grimbsy, had to spend several days lying flat on her back after spinal surgery to combat chronic back pain, and recalls having to rely entirely on visitors to get a drink. ‘I quickly found the nurses were not going to offer me a sip of water — though they’d always help if I rang the bell and asked them to hold the cup up to my mouth. ‘But as a very independent person, I hated doing that. ‘I found it easier to put up with being thirsty until a visitor arrived — and luckily for me, I had lots of visitors.’
One important way of assessing hydration is by estimating the amount of fluid consumed against a measurement of urine produced.
This should be carried out on a daily basis and is a vital part of healthcare, says Dr Bowling. But it’s an inexact science that can be neglected, alongside the recognition of relevant symptoms.
And blaming poorly trained healthcare assistants simply isn’t good enough. Dr Claire Chambers, senior lecturer in health and life sciences at Oxford Brookes University, says the key to avoiding dehydration is a culture where every healthcare professional cares about their patients getting enough to drink.
‘There’s nothing wrong with devolving responsibility for monitoring hydration to healthcare assistants,’ she says. ‘What’s dangerous is the tick-box mentality where particular targets are focused on to the detriment of others.’
What’s so frustrating is that the symptoms of dehydration should be very easy to spot. First and foremost is the feeling of being thirsty: people who complain about being thirsty ‘are already dehydrated’, points out the recent Royal College of Nursing report.
Other symptoms are also obvious to the trained eye, says Dr Bowling, such as low blood pressure, dry tongue, low urine output and deteriorating kidney function (shown by a blood test).
‘Unfortunately, the education of nurses and doctors in this regard has always been poor and there is a clear need for this to be improved,’ he says.
The desperate need for this was graphically illustrated by the inquest of 19-month-old Harry Connolly held in Northampton in April 2012.
The toddler had acute kidney failure which caused him to die of dehydration — after twice being sent home by doctors at Northampton General Hospital and a third time by a GP employed by an out-of-hours service, South East Health, in April 2011.
On the day before his death, Harry’s grandmother became concerned that the toddler had ‘sunken eyes’ — one of NICE’s ‘red flag’ signs of clinical dehydration in children under five.
Yet her concerns were dismissed by the out-of-hours GP, who said the boy was not dehydrated and did not need to go to hospital. Tragically, Harry was found dead in his cot the next morning.
Such terrible failures of care point to the need for ‘a monumental initiative to shift attitudes’, according to the British Dietetic Association, which supports the call for better awareness of dehydration among healthcare professionals.
‘Educating staff to recognise the symptoms of dehydration must be the first step to good hydration behaviour,’ says dietician Dr Aisla Brotherton, who is helping to launch a new training module on hydration for NHS staff.
Dr Thomas says the key to better care is more careful monitoring of at-risk patients. ‘Perhaps they need to have red jugs on their bedside table so that all staff, and indeed visitors, can ensure that everything possible is done to keep their hydration levels high.’
Another practice being introduced in a handful of trusts is ‘intentional rounding’, where nurses, rather than simply responding when patients ask for help, carry out regular ward rounds on an hourly or two-hourly basis, including questioning patients about whether they want a drink. ‘It’s about nurses ensuring that patients are safe, rather than assuming they are safe,’ says Annette Bartley of the Health Foundation.
A further contribution to ending dehydration is the Hydrant, a water bottle with a straw that can be used by anyone, even those with restricted hand movement, enabling them to drink any time they want.
It was developed five years ago by Mark Moran, an endurance athlete who woke up after a back operation and found he couldn’t get a drink. Now two hospitals, Stoke Mandeville in Aylesbury and Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in Swindon, provide the Hydrants for patients — with evidence showing a significant increase in hydration levels and a dramatic reduction in dehydration-related disorders including urinary tract infections and falls.
Mark Moran says what haunts him is the knowledge that the simple bottle could have saved Kane Gorny’s life. ‘He was able to use his mobile phone to call the police — which means he could certainly have helped himself to water without troubling the nurses at all.’
Britain’s backlog of migrants is 276,000 and growing as border chiefs struggle to deal with rising number of cases
Border chiefs are struggling with an enormous backlog of 276,000 immigration cases. The growing total includes asylum seekers, foreign criminals and illegal migrants and is equivalent to the population of Newcastle.
MPs on the Commons Home Affairs Committee said the UK had become a ‘Bermuda Triangle’ for migrants, a country where it is ‘easy to get in, but impossible to keep track of anyone, let alone get them out’.
Some 21,000 new asylum cases have built up because officials were able to process only 63 per cent of last year’s applications.
In addition, there are 150,000 legal immigrants who came as students and workers but whose visas have since expired. This figure is rising by 100 every day.
The UK Border Agency does not know if these immigrants are still here, despite the fact they have no right to stay. Forty per cent of this group had never been sent a letter telling them to leave the country, as all those with expired visas should.
Tens of thousands of these lapsed visa cases date back more than five years and are a legacy of Labour’s catastrophic mismanagement of Britain’s immigration system.
There are also 3,900 foreign criminals living in the community and free to commit more crimes, including more than 800 who have been at large for five years or more.
Former Home Secretary John Reid, left, described his partner as ‘not fit for purpose’ while his predecessor Charles Clarke, right, quit after it emerged more 1,000 foreign prisoners had been released without consideration for deportation
On top of this, another 101,000 asylum and immigration cases remain from the backlog of more than 450,000 found lying around in officials’ cupboards and drawers six years ago.
They were revealed by the then Home Secretary John Reid, who described his own department’s immigration system as ‘not fit for purpose’.
These cases have been placed in a ‘controlled archive’ – effectively put on ice – because they cannot be found. No action will be taken against them unless their whereabouts are discovered as a result of unrelated police or local authority inquiries.
Around 60 per cent of the 450,000 were allowed to stay in the country, many because so much time had passed since their application that they had settled here and had a family.
Mr Reid’s predecessor Charles Clarke was forced to quit after it emerged that more than 1,000 foreign prisoners had been released between 1999 and 2006 without even being considered for deportation.
Astonishingly, despite more than six years passing since that scandal came to light, 60 of those offenders remain untraced and are still at large in the UK.
Keith Vaz, the committee’s chairman, said the backlog, which will take years to clear, was unacceptable, adding that the agency seems to have ‘acquired its own Bermuda Triangle’.
‘It’s easy to get in, but near impossible to keep track of anyone, let alone get them out,’ the Labour MP said. ‘This is the first time the committee has collated all the cases at the UK Border Agency that await resolution.
‘This backlog is now equivalent to the entire population of Newcastle upon Tyne.’
The cross-party group attacked Article 8 of the Human Rights Act which it said ‘weighs too heavily on the side of offenders rather than the safety of the public’.
This, they said, ‘allows criminals facing deportation to live freely in our communities and to endlessly prevent their removal through spurious claims about their right to a private and family life under Article 8’.
But the MPs endorsed Government changes to make it easier to remove foreign criminals, adding: ‘The rights of offenders must be balanced against the rights of law-abiding citizens to live their lives in peace, free from the threat of crime.’
The report also called for deportation proceedings to begin as soon as a prisoner is sentenced, instead of during their prison term, to speed up the process.
The Home Office said: ‘This report highlights improvements we have made to tackle the huge backlog of cases we inherited.
‘Over 2,000 overstayers have recently been removed following targeted enforcement activity, foreign offenders are being removed more quickly and we are performing well against visa processing targets.
‘Talented students are welcome, but we have introduced new powers to toughen up the system, keeping out the fraudulent and unqualified.
‘The report has raised some legitimate concerns about issues that we are already tackling.’
Thought crime in Britain
Last week, Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London staged a five-day trial (cost to the taxpayer: unknown, but doubtless staggering) at which Chelsea and England soccer star John Terry successfully defended himself against the charge that he had racially abused an opposing player, Anton Ferdinand, during a Premier League game last season.
Ferdinand told the court that during the game, Terry had called him a ‘c—,’ so he called back him a ‘c—’ back and accused Terry of ‘shagging his team mate’s missus.’ Terry responded with the words: ‘F—— black c—,’ although Ferdinand did not hear him say it. The incident was later posted on YouTube, and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) started a criminal investigation, resulting in Terry’s arrest and trial.
It was not the foul language that landed Terry in trouble. The word that put him in the dock was the only part of his utterance fit to print without asterisks (and the only bit that was descriptively accurate). It was the adjective, black.
Ever since 1965, incitement of racial hatred has been a criminal offence in Britain. This was incorporated into the 1986 Public Order Act, under which Terry was charged. This Act has subsequently been extended to prohibit incitement of hatred of religious and sexual minorities as well, so if Terry had referred to Ferdinand as, say, a ‘f—— Muslim c—’ or a ‘f—— gay c—,’ he could have found himself in the same sort of trouble (calling someone a ‘f—— bald c—’ or a f—— old c—’ is, however, not currently illegal, so bald old Brits like me have no statutory protection).
This case has given middle Britain a ghastly insight into the depraved culture of England’s sporting elite. Foul-mouthed men like Terry earn around £150,000 per week and are revered as role models by youngsters up and down the country. They are gross, yet they are treated as heroes.
What is more disturbing, though, is that Terry was brought to trial simply for the language he used. The case shows how Britain’s race relations laws attempt to control, not just what we do, but the way we think. Words betraying negative emotions about racial (or religious or sexual) minorities are illegal, regardless of whether they have any influence on behaviour.
It obviously makes sense to prohibit language intended to stir up violence, but that was never the case here. Terry and Ferdinand exchanged gross and abusive insults, nothing more. Yet Terry was arrested – not for anything he had done, but because he added that Ferdinand was black. That was enough to get him charged with what Orwell would recognise as ‘thought crime.’ It showed (in the eyes of the prosecution) that Terry was a ‘racist.’
In the end, Terry got off because the prosecution failed to prove that he had intended to abuse Ferdinand when he mouthed the words he used. But this case is only the tip of a monstrous iceberg, and others have not been so lucky.
Since 2000, UK schools have been required by law to report ‘racist incidents’ to the authorities: 30,000 incidents were reported in 2008–09, more than half of them from primary schools. Even though 95% involved only verbal abuse or name-calling, the CPS launched almost 3,000 prosecutions against children aged between 10 and 17 for ‘hate crimes.’
Sometimes I wonder what has happened to the country that gave birth to John Stuart Mill.
How the nationalisation of parenting stoked the British summer riots of 2011
‘We have nationalised child-raising’, claimed Shaun Bailey, head of the charity My Generation, during an autopsy of the riots and looting that swept England in summer 2011. Bailey continued: ‘People think that the government is responsible for their children – that weakens the family structure. One of the worst things as a parent is having nothing to teach your children; one of the worst things as a child is to believe that authority lies outside your parents.’ (1)
Now, I am spontaneously prone to questioning the pronouncements of Big Society worthies such as Shaun Bailey. I have no idea what My Generation actually is; according to the Charity Commission records, it has now ‘ceased to exist’. And it was striking that, having denounced the ‘nationalisation’ of parenting by the state, Bailey’s proposed solutions seemed to involve yet more of the same: for example, that school pupils should be taught about ‘parenting’ from an even earlier age.
But Bailey’s diagnosis of the dangers inherent in eroding parental authority was absolutely spot on. By attempting to ‘nationalise’ childrearing, whether by providing classes to instruct parents in officially approved childrearing methods or by using schools to inculcate children in a heightened awareness of the failings of their mothers and fathers, in recent decades, government parenting policy has stripped parents of their directly authoritative role.
Instead of being the boss of their own homes, parents are situated as mediators in the relationship between the child and the state, and told that their primary responsibility is not to do right by their child but to show that they are doing the right thing according to the current parenting orthodoxy. The effect of this, as Bailey suggested last year, is to disorient both parents and children, as both question the basis for parental authority.
Was this what caused the riots last summer? Not on its own. The behaviour of those young people engaged in the mayhem was profoundly shocking – but so, too, was the response of the adult population, from the middle classes cowering in their living rooms and boasting about that in the press, to the failure of the police to intervene decisively. What underpinned the chaos was the open collapse of adult authority, and this should have provided a wake-up call to our society about the need to grow up and take responsibility for the younger generations.
But the problem of parental authority forms an important part of the generalised crisis of adulthood, and it is worth reflecting on the relationship between the two.
Nationalised parenting and the problem of discipline
My book Standing Up To Supernanny is largely a critique of ‘parent bashing’, where parents are held singlehandedly responsible for everything that might go wrong with their kids, from a decayed tooth to teenage angst, to failure to achieve top grades in their numerous (and increasingly, apparently meaningless) school exams. The widespread acceptance of parental determinism is one of the most limited and cowardly ideas of our time. It seeks to find a simplistic personal cause to every social problem, and has the effect of absolving society at large from doing anything other than nagging parents about how to behave (see: Parental determinism: a most harmful prejudice, by Frank Furedi).
For all the reasons that officials like to bash parents, it was not surprising to see this technique emerge as part of the response to last summer’s riots – for example, in prime minister David Cameron’s opportunistic scapegoating of 120,000 ‘troubled’ families as the cause of the modern malaise. But what was, if anything, worse than the parent-bashing was the outpouring of fatalism that situated ‘poor parenting’ within a comprehensive list of the ills of the modern age.
On 14 August 2011, for example, the Independent claimed that the riots were the product of ‘a perfect storm of school holidays, rising living costs, warm weather, cautious police tactics, rolling TV news and social media, [alongside] deep-seated social and cultural problems, including poverty, failing schools, gangs, joblessness, materialism and poor parenting’.
In some sections of the press, this generalised sense of angst quickly morphed into the idea that the riots were merely an understandable – even tacitly condonable – reaction to the naff consumerism of modern life, economic problems, the behaviour of bankers, and anything else that the liberal intelligentsia might not like about twenty-first-century Britain (including the weather). As such, the more interesting critiques of the problem of contemporary parenting culture were deftly sidelined when they could have been directly addressed and debated.
For example, parent-bashing tends to assume that parents don’t care enough about their kids. Yet evidence of recent decades suggests that, whether they live in leafy Surrey or inner-city Tottenham, parents are putting more time, energy and anxiety into trying to do right by their kids than any previous generation. The problem is that they increasingly seem to lack the authority to mould their kids into an image of responsible adulthood; meaning that when 18-year-olds start having toddler tantrums and trashing their own neighbourhoods, nobody knows quite what to do.
The problem of parental authority in the immediate aftermath of the riots was most clearly expressed in parents’ complaints about how they felt disempowered in their ability to discipline their children. Having been told by social services and other official agencies that the only permissible forms of discipline were those associated with ‘positive parenting’ – in other words, praise and persuasion, which are not forms of discipline at all – they felt helpless to control their kids when their behaviour started to get out of control.
Some, including London mayor Boris Johnson and the Labour MP for Tottenham, David Lammy, have engaged with this problem, and made some welcome arguments as to why restrictions on parents’ disciplinary methods have gone too far and why parents should be able to smack their children when necessary. However, the recognition of the need for parental discipline needs to be underpinned by a broader sense that it is adults who make the rules, and that it is right for them to impose sanctions when things go wrong.
For parents to exercise authority, there has to be a presumption of parental authority. This presumption has been in decline for some time, but it is now becoming clear just how comprehensively it has been eroded by two decades of ‘nationalised’ parenting policy.
The slow demise of adult authority
The anxiety about out-of-control youth is not new. Historians have noted a particular peak in this anxiety in the immediate postwar period, when anxieties about the emergence of the ‘teenager’ developed as a particular law-and-order problem in the form of ‘juvenile delinquency’. John R Gillis’s 1974 book, Youth and History, describes the concerns like this:
‘The notion of a period of life freed from the responsibilities of adulthood was too easily distorted by the more restive members of the younger generation into the frightening image of the rebel without a cause. And if rising rates of delinquency were not enough to give second thoughts, there was also the realisation that even the more benign features of adolescence, including its political passivity and social conformity, mirrored other well-known weaknesses of adult society.’ (2)
Alongside anxieties about delinquent youth, there were also concerns about the decline of the authoritative adult, and the consequences of this for failing to contain problems. For example, John Barron Mays wrote, in his 1961 article about ‘Teenage Culture in Contemporary Britain and Europe’: ‘The majority of those who rebel in this period would, given adequate support and firm but sympathetic leadership, adjust to their growing-up problems in socially acceptable ways. But the failure of older members of the community, especially of parents and educators, to give them adequate support, makes them temporarily easy victims for the illegal promptings of a handful of seriously maladjusted and emotionally disturbed instigators.’ (3)
Even though, in the 1950s, there was a fear that adults weren’t quite up to the job of keeping all the young people in check, there remained a sense that the ‘rebels without a cause’ were a minority who could, and should, be brought under control. Despite the often bleak view of adult society at that time, there was still a clearly understood distinction between adults and children, and a view that adult society needed to sort its own problems out, rather than indulge the lashing-out of its youth.
By the time Christopher Lasch wrote his bleakly prescient 1977 book Haven in a Heartless World: The Family Besieged, the decline of authority within the adult community at large was both mirrored and exacerbated by the erosion of parental authority within the family. Part of this problem, according to Lasch, was the extent to which agencies and cultural influences external to the family were taking on increasing aspects of the socialisation process.
In consequence, argued Lasch: ‘Relations within the family have come to resemble relations in the rest of society. Parents refrain from arbitrarily imposing their wishes on the child, thereby making it clear that authority deserves to be recognised as valid only insofar as it conforms to reason.’ This resulted in a ‘growing gap between discipline and affection’ in the American family at that time, where discipline was outsourced. (4)
Lasch’s argument about the distinctiveness of parental authority from that imposed by other agencies is important to address. For Lasch, it is problematic when the authority of mum and dad appears just like the authority of a teacher, a politician or a boss, in that it has to be earned, and that it can and should be questioned. That is because relations within the family are different from relations within the rest of society. Family relations are implicit, affective, emotional, physical; parental authority is all-encompassing in a way that official diktat never can be.
That is why the phrases ‘I’ll tell your mum’ or ‘wait ’til your father gets home’ have historically had far greater import with children than being given detention at school or told off by a policeman for throwing stones at derelict buildings. Today, though, the phrase ‘you’re not the boss of me’ is as likely to be used in backchat to a mother or father as it is to a teacher. Adult authority has become so diminished that, culturally, no source of authority is assumed to carry weight over younger generations.
Why authoritarianism is no substitute for authority
One consequence of the undermining of parental authority, according to Lasch, is authoritarianism: ‘Law enforcement comes to be seen as the only effective deterrent in a society that no longer knows the difference between right and wrong.’ In contemporary Britain, one clear consequence of the undermining of tacit forms of authority – that of parents, primarily, but also that of adults within the community – has been that the only people who are ‘allowed’ to exercise discipline over children are those who have been specifically charged by the state with this task, and trained accordingly.
So teachers, probation officers, social workers and community co-optees who have undergone Criminal Records Bureau checks and attended certain training courses are presented with a badge of authority, which is supposed to signal that they are to be trusted and that they should be obeyed. Anyone who falls outside the sphere of official regulation – parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, neighbours, family friends, residents of a community – is warned, by a combination of cultural norms and the direct threat of sanction, to hold back.
This has important consequences for the sense of adult authority in general. If parents feel nervous about smacking, or shouting at, their own children, they feel 10 times more nervous about imposing their authority upon other people’s children. In this situation, the need for control over youth is either batted back to the parents, whose ability to do it is constrained by the orthodoxy of ‘positive parenting’, or it is handed over to the authorities, who, it turns out, cannot do the job either.
This latter point was starkly revealed during last summer’s riots, with the collapse of the police. In August 2011, Omar Malik, whose flat was caught up in what The Sunday Times describes as the ‘moral blaze’, called the police twice and the fire brigade three times, in vain. ‘We felt completely abandoned in our hour of need’, he said. When he asked his five-year-old son to draw a picture of the fire, as ‘therapy’, he recalled that, ‘the child drew his burning home with firefighters pointing their hoses in the wrong direction, while police stood by doing nothing’ (4).
The failure experienced by Malik’s family, and indeed by the communities affected by the riots, was not simply the police being too inept to do their job. It was a sense that all adult authority had suddenly disappeared. And if society loses that fundamental sense that the adults are in charge, then you can arm a body of men as much as you like but it won’t be able to contain the problem.
The British police force currently has a number of institutional problems, all of which contribute to its often apparent inability to act effectively; but its paralysis in the face of young people is intrinsically related to the wider anxiety about who is the boss in the adult-child relationship. Police officers, like teachers, social workers and others, are trained according to the idea that young people are supposed to be listened to, negotiated with, flattered and cajoled, but never criticised or forced to behave. So when they don’t behave, all hell breaks loose.
In this regard, the crisis of adult authority today goes far deeper than that described by Christopher Lasch in 1977. He warned that its absence would lead to law enforcement being seen as the ‘only effective deterrent’ to wrongdoing – in fact, when the distinction between right and wrong really does become lost, transgressors do not even consider the possibility that they might be held to account for breaking the law.
This was perhaps best summed up by the much-reported story of the female looter who was caught on a shop’s CCTV camera trying on shoes before she stole them: the surprise was less that she stole the shoes than that she never considered that she would be held to account for doing so. It was previously revealed in the arrogance of some of the students protesting against the education cuts, who did not bother to conceal their identities when causing damage, and were surprised when the cops come knocking at their door.
It should be stressed that the upshot of the police lacking authority over young people is not that we will have a kinder, more humane society. Rather, the inability to act in an authoritative way merely leads the police force to seek blunter technical means of enforcing social control – as with the bizarre discussion about the need to use water cannons and other violent tools in the face of any future riots.
Within the family as well, the erosion of adult authority does not mean that children enjoy more freedom of expression, or that they are raised to become happier beings. As Shaun Bailey said: ‘One of the worst things as a child is to believe that authority lies outside your parents.’ If there is one positive lesson that we can learn from last summer’s riots, it is that the nationalisation of parenting makes everything worse, and that reclaiming our kids would indeed make the world a better place.
What matters most… the right of the Rock Gods to make a racket – or YOUR right to a quiet life?
If a man burst into your house and started painting the walls, you’d throw him out and call the police. You wouldn’t care if he said: ‘But I really like this colour. So should you.’
If a stranger bustled into your kitchen and cooked a meal for you, then ordered you to eat it, you’d think he was mad, even if he said: ‘But I really like this sort of food. So should you.’
The same would go for anyone who made you watch his choice of TV programme, or compelled you to read the books he liked.
Why is it, then, that some individuals are allowed to force their taste in noise not just on their neighbours, but on thousands of people? Lovers of rock music may think that everyone shares their liking for screeching electric guitar chords, shouted lyrics and a perpetual factory thump. They are mistaken. Millions actively loathe this form of entertainment.
But these days they have to listen to it. It throbs from passing cars. It pervades cinemas. It is the chosen background of TV advertising and is almost universal in shops. I might add that the USA sometimes uses it as a form of torture, sorry, persuasion, and I can quite see why.
Increasingly, it also howls and roars from city parks. Thanks to a change in the law a few years ago, parks have ceased to be islands of peace and have instead become the frequent location for so-called concerts, often sponsored by local authorities who need all the money they can get to service the huge debts they have run up in 30 years of spendthrift excess.
Those living nearby must, on several nights of the year, endure someone else’s bad taste. You may have planned a peaceful evening or an early night. But you can’t have one, thanks to the monstrous selfishness of the rock cult.
Because of this problem, the authorities have been slowly fumbling towards an attempt to limit the invasion of noise into millions of private night-times.
So it was that last weekend, in London’s Hyde Park, Bruce Springsteen and Sir Paul McCartney, those omnipotent demigods of rock, were – amazingly – compelled to shut up. No doubt there were sighs of joy in thousands of homes nearby.
But the petulant, inconsiderate cult of rock didn’t get it. The audience booed. Members of Springsteen’s band moaned that Britain was a ‘police state’ because the freedom to enjoy peace was – for once – elevated above the freedom to make a loud noise.
London’s populist mayor, Alexander ‘Boris’ Johnson, a supposed conservative, sucked up to the guitar cult. He brayed: ‘If they’d have called me, my answer would have been to jam in the name of the Lord.’
Who then speaks for those who want a quiet life?
Wind farms DO hit British house prices: Government agency finally admits that thousands can be wiped off value of homes
Wind farms can wipe tens of thousands of pounds off the value of homes, a government agency has admitted for the first time.
The Valuation Office Agency has been forced to re-band homes into lower council tax categories, confirming what most residents who live near the giant turbines already know: they are detrimental to property prices.
The move will make it harder for the wind farm industry to dismiss public concerns over the impact of their turbines.
At least five homeowners have seen their properties officially downgraded by the VOA because of their proximity to windfarms.
But only cases that go to appeal are made public by the agency, suggesting many more applications have been received for council tax discounts.
In one case, a couple saw the value of their home near the Fullabrook wind farm site near Braunton, Devon, fall from £400,000 to £300,000 when they asked estate agents to value it.
The home is 650 yards from three of the turbines and the couple feared that the noise and visual dominance of the turbines would not only de-value their home, but make it impossible to sell.
The VOA agreed to put the home from council tax F to band E, saving the couple £400 a year in council tax.
Families living in the seaside Suffolk village of Kessingland have also applied to be put into a lower council tax band as many of their homes are near 400ft turbines.
When one resident, Sue Price, put her home up for sale last year for £460,000, she found a buyer. But they pulled out when local papers reported that the wind farms were about to be erected and estate agents told her to drop her price, she told the Sunday Times. ‘We went down to £360,000 and still could not sell so now we have taken it off the market,’ she said.
Waveney Council which covers the area has admitted that the constant swooshing noise does constitute a ‘statutory nuisance’, and is working on a technical solution with the wind farm operators, Triodos Renewables.
Recent council-tax rebandings by the Valulation Office are the first admission by an arms-length government body that house prices can be dented by wind farms.
This is despite other studies pointing to their detrimental effects, including the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors who pointed out in a 2007 report that homes within one mile of wind farms would lose value.
One in five prospective buyers rate peace and quiet as their number one priority when looking at a house, according to an Alliance and Leicester survey.
Val Weedon, the honorary president of the UK Noise Association, said wind farms would have an impact on people’s quality of life and therefore house prices.
She said: ‘These re-valuations will set a precedent which the wind farm industry does not want. Wind farm noise is like road and airport noise, it has an impact on property prices.’
‘Noise is also associated with headaches and nausea as it is a form of stress, so it can also have a detrimental effect on your health.’
It was revealed last week that every home in Britain will pay £88 to build a vast network of pylons in a £22billion project to link wind farms to the national grid.
Bills will start to rise next year under the controversial plans revealed by industry regulator Ofgem. An average of £11 will be added annually for eight years, making £88 in total on top of any other increases.
The industry was recently dealt a blow by Chancellor George Osborne, who demanded huge cuts in government aid for wind farms.
The Chancellor told the Treasury to draw up plans for a reduction of 25 per cent in subsidies for onshore wind farms.
A VOA spokesman said: ‘The Valuation Office Agency (VOA) is responsible for keeping council tax bands up to date in England and Wales. We do not record the number of occasions where a band challenge is made by a taxpayer due to the proximity of a wind turbine/farm.
‘If a taxpayer believes that the value of their home has been reduced by a substantial physical change to their locality, then they may be entitled to make a proposal to alter their band.
‘The proposal will be considered by the VOA, which may or may not result in a band change. If the taxpayer disagrees with the decision of the VOA, there is a right of appeal to an independent Valuation Tribunal.’
British government plans to encourage nuclear and wind power ‘will add £110 to electricity bills’
The planned shake-up of the electricity market could raise householders’ bills by more than £110 and put off investors, MPs have warned.
In a damning report, they say the Government’s planned revolution in how we produce energy – announced two months ago – will not benefit consumers and needs an ‘urgent rethink’.
The reforms are intended to guarantee high electricity prices for firms who invest in building nuclear power stations and wind farms to meet Britain’s green energy targets.
But the Energy and Climate Change Committee claims the decision to allow energy firms, rather than the Treasury, to guarantee these prices risks higher charges for bill-payers.
Committee chairman Tim Yeo, a former Tory environment minister, said the current plans would increase the power of the Big Six energy companies and ‘will not work for consumers in their present form.’
Ministers hope to put strict controls on coal-fired power stations and imported energy, while boosting renewable energy like wind, wave and solar power.
The Government’s climate advisers said last year that energy bills would rise by £190 by 2020 – with £110 of this down to renewable energy policies.
Barry Gardiner, a former Labour environment minister on the committee said: ‘We will lose a fifth of our generating capacity by 2020 and these reforms will not keep the lights on.
‘These plans do not reassure investors, and if there is pressure on supplies, it will drive up consumer bills. It’s vital the Government back a scheme which will incentivise investment and stop moving the goalposts.’
Last year David Cameron ordered the Big Six – whose profits per customer have soared – to do more to help customers onto cheaper tariffs.
Mr Yeo said: ‘Nobody wants to see a blank cheque written out for green energy, but the Government must provide investors with more certainty about exactly how much money will be available.’
Energy Secretary Ed Davey said: ‘The Energy Bill will enable us to make radical changes to the electricity market that deliver investment in secure, low carbon, affordable energy. We are determined to…develop a robust and effective Bill with the interests of both consumers and investors at the heart.’