Monday, 31 March 2014

The 'Cinderella Law'

The emotional abuse or neglect of children is to become illegal if the proposed new 'Cinderella Law' is introduced. Crimes such as the withholding of love toward a child could become an imprisonable offence, carrying a sentence of up to ten years!

Goodness knows where this would have left my late father who, by and large, could only show affection to cats and whom I now firmly suspect was on the autistic spectrum. Would my sister and I have been taken into care?

On a more serious note, while the sentiment of stamping out emotional abuse and psychological harm is admirable, how on earth would it be policed and established beyond reasonable doubt, let alone enforced? Prior to which would be the more pressing urgency to have 'neglect' and 'abuse' legally defined and categorised, to exclude the parent who makes their child do its homework each night, refuses to buy it the latest branded trainers and disallows it to live on ice cream and marshmallows! (always a childhood dream of mine). Notwithstanding, there are plenty of parents who are simply not very good at parenting or have psychological impairments to expressing emotion like my father. They may not mean to ignore or act inconsistently to their children and their children may love them in spite of their shortcomings or, what may appear to outside eyes, a latter-day Dickensian scenario. Then there's the opposite scenario of 'loving neglect' - where children may have all the gadgets, holidays and ponies that money can buy - and a whole string of au pairs or nannies - just very little time spent with their actual parents. Sending children to boarding school too could potentially be classed as emotional neglect or abuse, depending on who you ask/which boarding school (an ex of mine was very badly affected by being packed off to boarding school from the age of eight). And what of all the ill-educated parents who have little idea of how to stimulate and intellectually nourish their children and consider that to feed, clothe and send them off to school each day is enough? From what I have read, this law almost assumes that all parents are middle-class and well educated, therefore any neglect must be deliberate.

Curiously however, there is no mention of Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS), the syndrome in which the resident parent effectively coaches or coerces a child into hating a formerly beloved non-resident parent (and sometimes that non-resident parents' entire side of the family) post divorce/relationship breakdown, using much emotional manipulation up to and including threats of dire consequences if the child defies them. Some resident parents even make false criminal allegations to paint their former partners in the darkest possible light or get them into trouble with the law.

PAS can happen to children of any age - it is merely the tactics which change. The good news is that PAS is provable by means of The Warshak Test, a psychological test developed by leading PAS authority, Dr Richard Warshak, which could easily be insisted upon by a judge in cases where mediation is refused or a child is reported as not wishing to see the non-resident parent. The resident parent could then face losing their maintenance payments, and potentially custody of the child or a prison term in extreme cases if it is proven that they are deliberately psychologically harming their child by obstructing a relationship with the non-resident parent out of their own need for revenge or spite, rather than acting in the child's best interests, (and why on earth are children still not required to appear in UK family courts?) How is a judge supposed to establish the truth from a third party report, or even the hardly unbiased word of the resident parent, who may be largely responsible for the child not wishing to see the other parent?!

I believe that stamping out the emotional abuse of PAS would be a much easier ask for the family courts to address than the decidedly grey and uncharted territory of how much parental love and attention is enough to produce a healthy, happy and productive new member of society.

Some childcare experts would furthermore argue that, at the lower end of the scale, being allowed to get bored or frustrated sometimes is an essential part of child development in its own right as the child who is never allowed to grow bored or frustrated never fully develops their creative side or the resilience and independence they will need to survive adult life.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Slain by Mr Brutus (for daring to ask about a pension)!

It's been a harrowing few weeks. First I was jubilant at landing a Property Manager job in charge of 121 properties in Brighton and Hove on two sites (one a former Victorian seafront hotel), office to myself, entirely in charge of my own workload, minimal red tape, ok starting salary and commission.
My new employer? KF Properties, owned by Keith Freedman, devisor of Brutus jeans and Trimfit shirts in the days when teenagers were newly invented and needed something to wear in-between Teddy Boy and New Romantic, who subsequently decided to go into property and now owns properties in a number of locations including Germany - strapline - 'accommodating the world'.
Then, just as I was getting my teeth into the role and getting to know my new residents and contractors, dismissal, purely because I dared to ask if KF Properties provided a pension (would this even have happened if I were a man?). On this basis, I was told that I 'obviously wasn't going to be staying if I wasn't happy and should therefore leave as my line manager Jitendra Patel ('JP') did not want to have to keep recruiting new property managers'. This made no sense to me as what did he imagine he would have to do all over again by dismissing me? And I was later informed he had already gone through four in two years, so surely it must have occurred to him that there might be a long-term staff retention issue which needed addressing.

But needing the job I was still happy to sign the contract and commit to staying for the foreseeable future (no employee can surely promise to stay beyond the foreseeable future), not least for the sake of my CV and not wishing to look like a job hopper. As for how long I stayed after that, well that was surely up to my new employer as much as myself, commitment being a two-way street.

Maybe I should have spotted the warning signs. It was a strange interview. I had been told in two separate emails to wait in my car outside the premises and Mr Patel would come and summon me when he was ready. I duly replied with details of what car I would be waiting in and arrived ten minutes before my interview. I waited, and waited, and waited. Until 20 minutes into my interview, I ventured out of the car, walked up to the office and tentatively rang the bell, expecting that the previous interview must have overran. Mr Patel answered the door looking harassed and told me I was late. I apologised and told him I had been advised in two separate emails to wait for him to collect me from my car. He then said he had been out looking for me (not true as I had anxiously been checking at momentary intervals to see if anyone was approaching the car). We moved on to discuss the job and he showed me round. Before the end of the interview he invited me for a second interview, after which he spent five minutes advising me on how to buy the cheapest rail ticket to reach their Head Office in London,

During the second interview at their head office in London, I met JP and Mr Brutus himself, Keith Freedman, who displayed the laconic air of a retired rock star who didn't have to try too hard, in a black laminate and leather-chaired board room whose walls were lined with Trimfit shirts and Brutus products. The interview was fairly informal, more of a chat about what they needed, rather than a grilling. After Mr Freedman left, Mr Patel detained me in the boardroom to tell me about the problems he had had with his previous property manager. Apparently she had thrown out all the office furniture and replaced it without his consent, double-locked him out of the Brighton and Hove office when he tried to visit and refused to meet with him on Saturday mornings as required. Moreover he alleged she had done very little of the work he had asked her to do and standards were sliding and the property vacancy rate was rising. I was suitably appalled and assured him he would have no such problems with me. He did look a bit pained when I presented my full-price rail ticket for reimbursement, though I explained that I might not have made the interview on time if I'd waited for an off-peak train.

I was told I would know by the end of the week if I had the job. On Friday at 4.50pm, I finally had the call saying I had the job and could I start the following Tuesday? I said yes and accepted the emailed offer letter in writing (no mention of pensions), but it did state that that there was no sick pay scheme, which didn't bother me unduly as I am seldom sick. JP seemed delighted and said he would have my contract ready in a few days, but not to worry, he would make sure I got paid. He had also arranged to have the property manager who had retired a few years before to come in two days a week for the first month to help train me.

I started on the Tuesday and met Peter L, a charming gentleman of retirement age who had apparently left because he wanted to go part-time and they wanted someone full-time. He seemed to think that KF Properties were a good employer once you got used to their 'funny little ways', but had always had his own property management business with his son as well and also wanted to spend more time with his wife in their retirement, so full-time was not for him.

The first few days were pretty full on as I got on top of all the phone messages, emails, assorted admin and building works and then proceeded to get to grips with the lettings side as well. I let my first flat within days and was busily getting all the other vacant flats up to scratch. Some things about the job surprised me such as the website inferring that all KF properties were high-end, but the Brighton and Hove ones were actually quite basic and the former seafront hotel had faded floral communal carpets which looked forty years old if they were a day and were curling at the edges and worn on the stair treads, a scruffy carpeted 60s lift, mismatched chandelier bulbs and a rear elevation which had not been painted or had its windows cleaned in years. (strangely, the tenants seemed to be expected to clean their own exterior windows, even at high level, and quite rightly were complaining about this). However I thought better of tackling anything more than the chandelier bulbs in my first week, most of which were not working in any case, leaving one lobby in almost complete darkness and a risk to Health and Safety.

 JP seemed pleased with my progress and I met with him on Saturday morning. He brought my contract but neither of us had time to look at it as we had so much work to discuss. He asked me to check it and I could return it the following Saturday when we met again. I finally had time to read it after the weekend and was surprised to find there was no pension provision and no mention of one for the future, not least in light of government requirements to bring one in. I questioned this and a few minor points in a friendly letter making it clear I was entirely open to negotiation, albeit letting a duty phone allowance (for the phone I was expected to carry and respond to 24/7) and the requirement I could do no work for any other party while I worked for KF Properties pass. I was also apparently not allowed to take a day off for the three months of my probation, which seemed a little unreasonable, but a job was a job and a recession is a recession. However the codicil asking me to sign away my 48 hrs European working rights was labelled as 'optional' and I was invited to cross it out if I did not want to sign it so I did. JP later let it slip in a somewhat hysterical phone call that this clause had been rather less than optional.

I emailed my points to him and went to work next day, thinking no more about it, then at the and of the afternoon read his reply, which answered each point until the last point about pensions where he gave me one week's notice to leave!

I pleaded with JP to reverse his decision and then received a phone call in which he seemed to assume that because I had only served a week and was on three months probation, I had no employment rights and he could treat me how he liked with no comeback. I pointed out that he still needed a valid reason to dismiss me and there was such a thing as an 'automatically unfair dismissal' and he shouted me down on this.  Plus how could he dismiss me for wishing to question a contract (which he had asked me to check) when I was presumably expected to negotiate rent raises from the tenants? There was no reasoning with him though. Apparently the great man had also spoken and dismissed I was.

However being tighter than his own 'crotch-crushing' jeans, I was still required by Mr Brutus to work my week's notice rather than being paid to leave immediately.

That last week was particularly difficult as I served the tenants and contractors each day trying to be cheerful and professional and solve as many of their problems as I could and accomplish as much work as I could until the end (it wasn't their fault they were about to lose their latest property manager after all), but the few people I told at the end were extremely shocked. As for me I am still in shock and my polite request for a settlement agreement has fallen on deaf ears.

I certainly never expected a multi-million pound jeans tycoon and property mogul to behave like a cowboy. Then again, with no mention of Health and Safety either (normally the legal bane of one's life in property management) perhaps I shouldn't have been so surprised.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Nicer Than PIE

All kids knew who Mary Whitehouse was when I was growing up. She was that interfering old biddy-body (and self-appointed chief of the Viewers and Listeners Association, which she founded), forever on the telly with her 'Clean Up TV' campaign railing to stop us kids hearing any rude words or watching or hearing anything else we shouldn't. In short she was out to spoil our fun and make us conform to white middle-class Christian values just like hers.
She was a figure of widescale derision, perhaps hardly surprisingly when she demanded that the word 'knickers' be removed from the Beatles 'I Am A Walrus' prior to broadcast on TV, complained about Mick Jagger's suggestive microphone positioning and as for Chuck Berry - he could keep his disgusting 'Ding-A-Ling!' to himself, stateside! All these and more legendary demands for 'public decency' long before two young comedians thought to wind her up with their TV comedy show The Mary Whitehouse Experience.
Now I read we children had reason to be more grateful to this retired RE teacher than we imagined as she was the one who exposed that PIE (the Paedophile Information Exchange - yes they really were that blatant back then) was being partly funded by government money and even had supporters from within the Home Office. Not only had PIE hitched its bandwagon to The National Council for Civil Liberties (now Liberty) where it found naive support among some now-senior political figures (sic recent scandal), it had attempted to do the same with feminism and the Gay Liberation Front. In an age of 'anything goes', it chanced its arm to sneak in and pretend to be a valid maligned minority group arguing for its rights to be recognised and enshrined in law just like any other. Not to mention the rights of children to sleep with ancient raddled adults (don't remember waving my junior placard on that particular protest).
Had Mary Whitehouse not shone a timely torch on PIE and their activities, who knows how much further PIE might have got?
Here is a chilling BBC interview with two of the proponents of PIE arguing for the age of consent to be abolished, incest to be legalised, and claiming that it is child molesters who are the dodgy ones out to exploit children - 'paedophiles love children' - the term paedophile meaning 'lover of children'. The interviewer seems worryingly out of his depth too in coming up with effective counter-arguments or killer questions.
Of course even in this area Mary Whitehouse did not always get her moral compass right.  When her National Viewers and Listeners Association decided to dish out annual awards to what they considered fine and upstandingly wholesome British TV shows, Jimmy Savile won one for 'Jim'll Fix It' and Mrs Whitehouse was quoted as sighing; 'If only they were all like that nice Mr Savile.'
How she must be turning in her grave now, poor dear.
At the end of the day though Mrs W was proven right in her suspicion that standards were in steep decline. Nowadays you don't even have to wait for the 9pm watershed to witness scenes of gratuitous sex, violence and swearing on TV. Then computer games, the internet and mobile devices came along. Now any individual of any age can watch anything, anytime, almost anywhere. It's like the nation has lost any sense of responsibility towards its young or vulnerable. Either that or I am getting old and this isn't really happening. On the flip side at least most youngsters know what a paedophile is these days (without it having to be explained to them by a broadcaster) and forewarned is forearmed. The law also takes paedophile crimes seriously nowadays as oppose to just sweeping them under the carpet and encouraging any victims brave enough to come forward to just forget about it as the law would have done in the 70s and 80s. Though as broadcaster Matthew Parris opines, plenty of right-minded individuals were as horrified by PIE in the 1970s/80s as we would be today, and it is thanks to their efforts then that PIE was eventually forced to officially disband in 1984, mission for acceptance, legal rights and protection for their activities unaccomplished. Thankfully.