How Do We Select For Empathy?

Christina Patterson thinks that observing people at work is ‘unfair’:

It’s bad enough to have to deal with the aches and pains, the failing sight, and hearing, and the often failing mind. It’s bad enough to have to deal with the worry about how you’re going to keep yourself fed, clothed and warm. But the normal worries of old age seem like a luxury next to the worries many now face: that the people meant to be looking after them will be cruel.

Well, yes. Sometimes those people are their own relatives, but most often, they are those employed to do the job by local authorities or private contractors

So you can see why Andrea Sutcliffe, the new chief inspector of social care, might think the answer was to put up hidden cameras.

Well, if you want to catch and prosecute them, you need evidence. And the CPS is reluctant to act without it…

A man from something called Big Brother Watch was worried that the “covert surveillance” would be “an attack on the privacy and dignity” of the residents of the homes.

That’s a concern, certainly. But surely a minor one when considered against the risk of abuse?

But Christina isn’t concerned with the elderly or disabled, oh no!

But nobody seemed to give a thought to the “privacy and dignity” of the people looking after them. Come and work in a care home! Be paid the minimum wage! And be treated like a criminal.


Are there no CCTV systems in ‘Guardian’ HQ then? Not even in the lobby? Our office has them, and I have never felt ‘treated like a criminal’ as a result…

If we want people to do their jobs well, we really can’t treat them like this. If we want people to be kind and caring and treat other people with respect, we need to treat them with respect too. And if we want people to do their jobs well we have to show them how to do their jobs well, and give them a proper training, and a better wage.

How is ‘a better wage’ going to stop the sadist? The one who is doing it not for the material reward, but for the chance to wield power over the helpless?

At a recent conference at the University of Surrey on the ethics of social care, I heard about a project in Belgium. People working in care homes were sent to a “care ethics lab” to be looked after for a day and a night. Some were in wheelchairs. All waited, as you do have to wait if you’re 80 and can’t walk, to be put in a hoist and washed, or clothed, or fed. And all found that it had a massive effect on the way they did their work.

“I felt hideous,” said one British manager of a care home who tried the programme. “I didn’t feel clean enough. Meals were the only thing to look forward to, but I ended up overfed.” It was, she said, the best training she’d had in 12 years.

“I think,” she said, “it needs to be mandatory.”

Sure, let’s spend thousands of pounds on training people to have empathy. Or…we could just consider selecting for that in the first place?

I think so too.

Sure you do. Because the alternative – that we stop hiring people who don’t share our language or culture – is anathema to progressives…

If you have a taste of what it’s like to be looked after, you don’t need to be told to ask, as Sutcliffe now tells her staff they should, “is it good enough for my mum?” You’d know if it was good enough for your mum. You’d know if it was good enough for you.

We could just stop leaving the care of our elderly to strangers? Yes, it would still see some – those with no family – needing care by the state, but that would be a much smaller, easier to monitor group, wouldn’t it?

2 comments for “How Do We Select For Empathy?

  1. November 6, 2013 at 1:38 pm

    As for the CCTV cameras only, I’m with her on that.

    It’s ok, to a certain extent, to have cameras dotted around areas that might need security. We have them outside work, but not in.

    This proposal is to put up cameras to record you while doing your job for the single reason, “It’s in case you abuse a resident”.

    That is not a good enough reason by a very long shot. How many other industries and businesses would put up cameras watching staff if “in case you commit a crime” became a viable excuse for recording the every move of staff?

    • November 9, 2013 at 7:58 am

      All of them, I suppose! But how can the progressives argue against it?

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