Melanie Phillips

2 June 2011

Public regulation and private squalor

Published in: Spectator

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Amidst widespread horror at the revelations by BBC TV Panorama of shocking systematic abuse at residential home for people with learning disabilities, the Prime Minister’s office has asked for an account of what various official agencies knew about the place. Squarely in the frame is the care homes regulator the Care Quality Commission, which clearly has many questions to answer. The Guardian reports:

The CQC, which failed to follow up tip-offs from a whistleblower who then contacted Panorama, has admitted its mistakes were ‘unforgivable’.

Putting aside the permanent moral stain on British society caused by its neglect and worse of elderly or handicapped people (far more effort is put into Bowdlerising the language than caring for those considered to be not fully functioning members of the human race), the question is whether regulators in general do what they are expected to do – defend and raise standards in the public services and hold backsliders to account.

One thinks of schools whose standards are abysmal by any normal criteria, but which are said to be satisfactory or better by Ofsted; one thinks of the Financial Services Authority which failed to prevent financial services going into meltdown.  Sure, some regulators seem to be better than others – the Prisons Inspectorate springs to mind as rather hard-hitting – but in general regulators appear to be too cosily embedded with the professional group they are regulating.

Regulators were introduced when central government started importing elements of the free market into the public services. While I am certainly no advocate for state control, it cannot be denied that the cynical advantage of the regulator model for politicians was that they could wash their hands of responsibility for the public services. Except, of course, they can’t really do so as we can see with the scandal unearthed by Panorama: what eventually happens is that ministers are forced to sort out the failings not just of the public service in the frame but of its regulator too.

The fundamental problem, however, is surely that this society has to a large extent lost its ethic of social responsibility -- and at a deeper level still, that love of humanity and respect for human life which keeps a society civilised.


About Melanie

Melanie Phillips is a British journalist and author. She is best known for her controversial column about political and social issues which currently appears in the Daily Mail. Awarded the Orwell Prize for journalism in 1996, she is the author of All Must Have Prizes, an acclaimed study of Britain's educational and moral crisis, which provoked the fury of educationists and the delight and relief of parents.

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  • Londonistan
  • The Ascent of Woman
  • America's Social Revolution

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Melanie Phillips
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