• Catastrophes grow on neglect 20 June 2017 | View comments

  • April 1983, I attended a conference organised by the Department of Social Administration at Lancaster University.

    I had researched the genesis of the Aberfan disaster, reading:
    Bignell V (1977). The Aberfan Disater. P 37- 66 in catastrophic failures edited by Bignell, Peter and Tym. Open University Press 1977. 

    And Laurie Lee: The village that lost its children. P 86 – 102 in ‘I can’t stay long’ Penguin Books 1975.

    That disaster occurred October 1966. Its origins were subject of a paper written in 1927. First warnings were evident from 1939 when 180,000 tons of waste from a colliery tip five miles from Aberfan slid down a hillside to block a road and canal and the River Taff.

    I was concerned to draw lessons from Aberfan and similar disasters, which were predictable, predicted and could have been prevented, and the head-in-the-sand attitude to the increased needs arising from dementia and related conditions of the time.

    ‘When I worked underground I filled many a truck for the tip. But not to knock down the school I didn’t ….’

    ‘The tragedy of Aberfan was one of inertia – of a danger which grew slowly for all to see, but which almost no one took steps to prevent ….’

    ‘Nobody was to blame ….. or all of us.’

    Now we have Grenfell Tower.

    The story is the same. Vast amounts of money have been spent. Vast fortunes have been made, but the safety and dignity of residents has been systematically neglected for very minor financial savings.

    Imagine the thoughts of men who have attached the flammable cladding which was to wrap around the building in a collar of flames. They were pleased to have a job to pay for the life of their family. They were not doing this to burn the residents of the tower block.

    The professional carers who flit from one 10 minute appointment to the next with no account taken of travel time, do not want to be dismissive of the people they are charged to care for.

    The social worker who declines support for someone whose need are great but do not reach the wickedly severe threshold need to trigger a service must surely feel sick at such a decision.

    The committees which routinely deny NHS continuing Care funds to individuals who clearly deserve it by any humane criteria, and required by legal precedents, do so only because they are rehearsed in their ‘judgements’ by government checklists which are at odds with humanity and the law.

    So, the organisations have their way. People suffer.

    This is not about dementia only. It is about everyone who is vulnerable, everyone who for one reason or other is perceived to be different.

    It is about doing things informed by mutual caring rather than individual greed.

    Is there the leadership for this?

    Do our educational priorities help with this?

    Can we say and mean it: ’Enough is enough.’

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