The condescension of Camila

Two years ago I was in acting charge of a London day care setting for the elderly not a million miles away from the fabled Kids Company. My young colleague put together a craft afternoon for our clients. She sent off for £20 of glass beads on Ebay. A lot of elderly people with dementia had a lovely time making jewellery thanks to her. The £20 was authorised by my manager beforehand and accounted for afterwards. Of course it would have been nice to give handouts to our clients, many of them in great need, but we had to vouch for every penny spent.

It was therefore utterly bewildering to watch former head of Kids Company Camila Batmanghelidjh give evidence to a select committee yesterday and admit that large sums were handed to young people just because she and her colleagues deemed them vulnerable.

But far worse than the accounting is the extraordinary condescension Camila showed about the communities where she worked. Kids Company began in “my” patch as a councillor in Southwark. Between 1992 and 1994 my Lib Dem colleagues and I did a 400% canvass of the nearby, very deprived, Aylesbury Estate including Wendover the biggest continuous high-rise council block in Europe. We topped this canvass up throughout the next decade, also conducting a crime survey of 2,700 homes. In many years of door knocking in the area I had many complaints about Kids Company (not all justified) but I never met a single local person who had been helped by Kids Company.

In an interview on Thursday to Channel 4’s admirable Afua Hirsch Camila showed extraordinary condescension when she said that the select committee members who questioned her were not the sort of people who visit the “ghettos”. My former ward of Faraday in Southwark can be a tough old place but it is not a “ghetto” nor is it likely to descend into “savagery” as Kids Company claimed in a risk assessment. It is easy to look around a high rise estate and assume the worst of the people who live there. But get a bus from the Aylesbury Estate at 5am and you will see people going in to London Bridge to clean City Hall, the Shard and many a prestigious office block. In my time as councillor a survey showed that an astonishing 81% of council tenants in the area felt that they could trust their neighbours.

Camila’s charisma and passion for her work are not in doubt but her stereotyping of a whole community helps no-one.

Image used for the featured post thumbnail at the top of our home page, for this post, is by Conference Basics, Flickr CCL.

* Ruth Bright has been a councillor in Southwark and Parliamentary Candidate for Hampshire East

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17 Comments

  • Tony Dawson 18th Oct '15 - 9:22am

    “In many years of door knocking in the area I had many complaints about Kids Company (not all justified) but I never met a single local person who had been helped by Kids Company.”

    Is anyone really surprised by this?

    Politicians of all parties are notoriously quick to back (and to make sure they are seen publicly to back) those who project more image than substance.Even where this organisation has done some good, who has monitored whether the good might have been done better and cheaper by others?

  • david thorpe 18th Oct '15 - 3:36pm

    this nis one of the most truthful posts ever produced on lib dem voice. thank you.

  • Ruth Bright wrote:

    “In my time as councillor a survey showed that an astonishing 81% of council tenants in the area felt that they could trust their neighbours.”

    Southwark Council employs (directly or through agencies) around 350 estate cleaners, and just under 100 resident services officers. That is one of the reasons why – perhaps the main reason why – the central belt of Southwark is nowhere near the sinkhole we think it is. Southwark is fortunate enough to have had in the recent past a minority Liberal Democrat administration that ensured that key services were not outsourced. Southwark has never had an ALMO. Its cleansing and refuse collection have always been done in-house.

    Kids’ Company, by contrast, is a vivid example of the state abdicating its role in looking after the vulnerable and dumping it on to the voluntary sector. The state may not be that great at looking after vulnerable children (extremely bad in the case of residential children’s homes), but at least it has sound financial management. Why were the people we are told were doing all these wonderful things at Kids’ Company not being employed by the state?

  • David Allen 18th Oct '15 - 7:55pm

    What is most appalling about all this is not that a charismatic person with massive blind spots can successfully build up and run a large organisation. It is that Government can happily pump in vast sums of public money without noticing that anything is amiss. When I was a Borough Councillor, I saw council officers doing a more thorough job of auditing charities which the Borough was giving £1000 away to! So what went wrong here? Did the normal checks get ignored because the Prime Minister said so?

  • Thank you all very much for your comments. I am now on my post Strictly Come Dancing LDV round-up (disclaimer I don’t enjoy watching it at all, I would much rather be tucked up with an Ovaltine and a copy of “On Liberty”, my kids make me watch it [!})

    David Allen – I am certainly not not going to invest £9.99 in a copy of “Call Me Dave” in order to investigate this further but it appears that our beloved PM has a bit of a complex about rather charismatic characters who convince him of their street-level authenticity and then prove to be a tiny bit of a liability. Andy Coulson, Emma Harrison/A4e?

    Sesenco – I think a lot of the fabric of community of the old Aylesbury estate dated back to the resilience of the community that was there before it was built. The estate’s tragedy is that Tony Blair liked to pose for photo opportunities in the area but his government actually vetoed the tenants’ preferred option of refurbishment of the blocks in order to push through all- out demolition.

  • Grahame Lamb 19th Oct '15 - 8:55am

    Ruth

    Clearly you care about people. And in particular those who might have dementia. I do think that we can assess how civilised a society is by examining how it it treats those members who are vulnerable.
    I see that you were a Parliamentary candidate in Hampshire East. Perhaps you knew my mother who lived in the constituency. It’s a smaller world than we think as my mother once said to me in the Kwai restaurant.

  • Ruth Bright 19th Oct '15 - 9:33am

    Grahame how lovely. I do remember – a remarkable and radiant lady.

  • Laura Gordon 19th Oct '15 - 10:26am

    Agree with most of this – the Kids Company thing is a pretty common ‘charismatic founder’ problem. NGOs have a huge failure rate and this is why.

    HOWEVER. Nothing wrong with giving people money. There’s loads of evidence that giving people cash grants, especially if done alongside other support, can be one of the most effective ways to promote long-term poverty reduction, as well as helping address behavioural issues (mechanisms aren’t really clear but it’s likely to do with reduced stress). Also, often vulnerable people have problems that can ONLY be addressed with money. About to become homeless due to short term cashflow problem? A bead making workshop isn’t going to help – a cash grant will.

    In other words: giving vulnerable young people cash = fine. Not accounting for said cash properly = not fine. Please can we focus our criticism on the latter rather than the former?

  • A point well made Laura – thank you. Certainly there is dignity in providing (an adult) with cash rather than stigmatising someone with vouchers

  • Jayne Mansfield 19th Oct '15 - 2:15pm

    @ Ruth,
    Maybe, but as someone who has attended bead working, batik working workshops etc., on estates such as those you mention, I have found that attendees look forward to ‘losing themselves’ in productive, creative groups where there is company and discussion. I would argue from listening in, that it is the highlight of the week for most of them, and a wonderful opportunity to make friends with others who have a shared interest. It is a release from their lives of often depressing isolation.

    As far as NGO’s are concerned, may I ( tongue cheek) respectfully suggest you put down any duster that you might be flicking, and read the article, ‘NGO paradigm and the failure of the State’. Just tap out the words on google. I made a promise to myself that I would never ever be troubled by correct academic referencing ever again!

    I too listened to the Select Committee programme and was aghast. Where was the independent oversight? Could more children have been helped with the money spent? Instead of claiming, as some do, that there are children who ‘fall through the cracks’ of our conventional social services, shouldn’t we be asking why those cracks exist in the first place?

    I had not intended to post on Liberal Democrat Voice now that I have gone over to the ‘dark side’, but a post from you broke my resolve. Please keep up the good work. As someone on here has already said, you are clearly a caring person.

  • Ruth Bright 19th Oct '15 - 5:18pm

    Jayne – may be the force be with you wherever you seek your political home!

  • Tsar Nicholas 19th Oct '15 - 10:21pm

    Great article! Thank you.

    If Charles Dickens were still alive – I suspect Camila would turn up as a strange character in one of his novels Mrs Jelby’s best friend, perhaps.

  • The state does nothing to support young people no youth clubs etc and passes the responsibility onto others lke Kids Club and when things are not going well for the government they divert attention by creating a distraction like sticking the boot into Kids Club and Camila who was doing a pukka job supporting the kids. This is a Tory conspiracy against Kids Club and Camila.

  • Ruth Bright 21st Oct '15 - 8:51am

    Will – as someone who is married to a former child protection social worker I agree completely about the untold pressures on services. Alan Yentob told the select committee that Camila has some health problems. I am very sorry to hear that but the fact is that there is no conspiracy against her; she was untouchable to her critics for many years.

  • Great article Ruth!

    Jayne Mansfield, why have you deserted us ? Please don’t leave LDV, you are the voice of reason on here. John Tilley (who I often agree with) and Helen Tedcastle (who I often disagree with) have also disappeared. Come back John and Helen – and stay, Jayne!

  • Matthew Huntbach 22nd Oct '15 - 1:49pm

    Phyllis

    Jayne Mansfield, why have you deserted us ? Please don’t leave LDV, you are the voice of reason on here. John Tilley (who I often agree with) and Helen Tedcastle (who I often disagree with) have also disappeared. Come back John and Helen – and stay, Jayne!

    This is to confirm that I too have stopped posting. You know the reasons, Phyllis.

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