The Smell of Bullshit, part 41: Lush are taking Amazon to court

See Guardian article here.

Some would say it’s strange, if not outright hypocritical, that Mark Constantine is nevertheless selling his book on Amazon. I just checked – it’s definitely on sale on Amazon today. Still, swimming pools don’t pay for themselves.


(Also, does anyone else think it’s weird Lush don’t sell via Amazon but they’re suing Amazon for suggesting alternative products they do sell, while they’ve never turned a hair at the numerous people promoting their own soap and toiletries companies on the Lush forum?)


The Smell of Bullshit, part 40: Improvement Notice

I refer you to my previous post relating to health and safety law and the requirements for risk assessment, and I draw your attention to this.

An improvement notice is issued because the Health and Safety Executive have identified that an employer has done something wrong, or not done something right that they had an obligation to do, and that act or omission is putting employees and/or the public at unacceptable, avoidable risk. In this case, they were exposing employees to corrosive materials without a suitable and sufficient risk assessment in place.

It’s clear from the link that Lush complied with the improvement notice, but why was an improvement notice required in the first place?

Euan’s Guide

I just wanted to draw people’s attention to It’s still quite new, still in beta, and doesn’t have much information in it yet, but the plan is that over time people will leave reviews of various establishments detailing how disability-friendly and accessible they are. Eventually it could become a valuable resource for people who would like to be sure that a venue or establishment can (and will) accommodate their needs before they get there, and they won’t be left stuck when the accessible toilet turns out to be blocked by a bin, locked so that the waitress has to unlock it with a knife and then it’s absolutely unusable because it’s even more disgusting than the toilet in Trainspotting (I’m looking at you, Prezzo North Bridge).

So far Euan’s Guide covers Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dublin, London, Southampton and Halifax.The more people who contribute to it, the more useful it will be. So get reviewing.

Soup of the Evening, Beautiful Soup*

*bonus points to anyone who gets the literary reference

I like soup for a tasty, filling and nutritious workday lunch, especially because I can make two or three different ones at the weekend then freeze it in portion sizes, and then – ta-da! – I have a selection ready to take out of the freezer and take to work.

As already stated, it can sometimes be difficult for vegetarians and vegans to get different sources of protein in their diet. Pulse-based soups are fantastic for easy protein, so here are a few of my favourites.

Black bean & carrot soup (from New Covent Garden Soup Company’s Soup and Beyond)

Serves 6-8

  • 250g/9oz dried black beans, soaked overnight
  • 110g/4oz butter
  • 2 onions, coarsely chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 6 bay leaves
  • 500g/1lb2oz carrots
  • 25ml/1fl oz jalapeno tabasco sauce, or 1 tablespoon chopped jalapeno chillies, or one green chilli, chopped
  • 150ml/1/4 pint sherry or fortified wine (I don’t like sherry, but it’s fine in this, and I use the rest of the bottle instead of wine in risotto)
  • 75g/3oz tomato purée
  • salt and pepper
  • 1.2 litres/2 pints water

Boil the soaked black beans in water rapidly for 15 minutes then simmer them while you make the rest of the soup. Melt the butter and sauté the onions, garlic and bay leaves in a large saucepan until the onions are soft. Add the carrots and jalapeno sauce/chillies, cover the pan and let sweat for 5 minutes. Pour in the sherry and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the drained beans, tomato purée and seasoning, cover with the quantity of water, bring to the boil and simmer for one hour. Remove from the heat, remove the bay leaves, and purée in a liquidiser. Reheat, serve garnished with grated cheddar.

Bengal Lancers’ Soup (from New Covent Garden Soup Company’s Soup and Beyond)

Serves 4

  • 225g/8oz red lentiils, rinsed well
  • 3 tablespoons groundnut oil
  • 1 large onion, finely sliced
  • 1 large red and 1 large green chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
  • 15g/1/2oz fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon each ground coriander, cumin and turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 275ml/1/2 pint stock (recipe says chicken, I use vegetable)
  • 2 large tomatoes, chopped
  • 100ml/4fl oz coconut cream
  • 1 dessertspoon salt
  • 1 dessertspoon tamarind purée
  • 15g/1/2oz fresh coriander, chopped

Put the lentils into a saucepan and pour in water to cover by 4cm. Bring to the boil and simmer fairly rapidly for 10 minutes, stirring from time to time and skimming off any scum from the surface. Remove from the heat, cover tightly and set aside.

While the lentils are cooking, heat the oil and fry the onions over a moderate heat, stirring, for about 15-20 minutes until golden brown. Reduce the heat and stir in the chillies, ginger and garlic. Cook gently, covered, for 3 minutes. Stir in the ground spices and black pepper, and cook gently for 2 minutes, stirring. Add the stock, lentils, tomatoes, coconut cream, salt and tamarind purée and stir well. Increase the heat and bring almost but not quite to the boil. Cool a little, then blend in a liquidiser until the soup is almost but not quite entirely unlike tea. Sorry, until the soup is fairly, but not completely, smooth. Reheat the soup, stirring, until almost at boiling point. Remove from the heat and stir in the coriander, and garnish with a spoonful of natural yogurt.

Brown ale, mushroom and lentil soup (from New Covent Garden Soup Company’s Soup and Beyond)

Serves 4

  • vegetable stock
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 tablespoons tomato purée
  • 50g/2oz brown lentils, well washed
  • 110g/4oz chestnut mushrooms, finely sliced
  • 110g/4oz flat mushrooms, finely sliced
  • 15g/1/2oz dried cepe or porcini mushrooms, soaked in 200ml/1/3 pint warm water for 20 minutes, drained (reserving soaking liquor), roughly chopped
  • 275ml/1/2 pint brown ale

Heat the oil and cook the onion over a moderate heat until beginning to brown. Reduce the heat, add the garlic and cook gently for 2 minutes. Stir in the tomato purée and lentils, then the flat and chestnut mushrooms. Increase the heat and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in the brown ale and 850ml/1.5pints stock. Cover, bring to the boil and simmer gently for 30 minutes. Add the reconstituted mushrooms and their soaking liquor to the pan, bring back to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Add Worcestershire sauce if liked, season and serve.

Moroccan chickpea and spinach soup (from New Covent Garden Soup Company’s Book of Soups) – this is one of the nicest soups I have ever eaten

Serves 6

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1.5 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon chilli powder (or to taste)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato purée
  • 150g/5oz dried apricots, chopped
  • finely grated rind of half a lemon
  • 4 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1.5 litres/2.5 pints vegetable stock
  • 250g/9oz cooked chickpeas – the drained weight of a 400g tin is 240g, so I just use one of those
  • 200g/7oz fresh spinach, shredded
  • salt and pepper

Heat the oil and cook the onions gently for 5 minutes in a covered saucepan, without colouring. Add the garlic and spices, and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the tomato purée and cook for 3 minutes. Add the apricots, lemon rind and juice, stock and chickpeas. Cover and simmer for about 45 minutes until the chickpeas are tender. Cool a little, then purée in a liquidiser. Return to a clean saucepan, stir in the spinach and simmer for a further 5 minutes until the spinach is wilted. Season to taste and serve garnished with a swirl of natural yogurt.

Black-eyed bean soup with oregano (from New Covent Garden Soup Company’s Book of Soups)

Serves 6

  • 350g/12oz black-eyed beans, washed and soaked overnight
  • 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, roughly chopped
  • 1 stick celery, roughly chopped (I leave it out because celery is the devil’s penis and not in a good way)
  • 1.4 litres/2.5 pints vegetable stock
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons tomato purée
  • 3 teaspoons Mexican chilli paste (or, 3 red or green chillies, whole, with slits cut in them)
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano

Place the drained beans, onion, carrots and celery (NO!) in a large pan with the stock, garlic, tomato purée and chilli paste/whole chillis. Cover, bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 2 hours or until the beans are tender, adding the salt and oregano 10-15 minutes before the beans are completely cooked. Purée half of the soup in a liquidiser, mix with the other half in the saucepan, reheat and serve.

Lentil and Lemon Soup (from New Covent Garden Soup Company’s Book of Soups)

Serves 6

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • 150g/5oz red lentils, washed
  • 570ml/1 pint vegetable stock
  • 1 400g/14oz tin chopped tomatoes
  • 2 teaspoons tomato purée
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
  • salt and pepper
  • juice of half a lemon, or to taste

Heat the oil and cook the onion and garlic gently for 10 minutes without colouring. Ad the lentils and stir to coat well in the oil. Add the stock and bring to the boil. Skim off any scum. Add the tinned tomatoes, tomato purée and 3/4 of the thyme. Bring back to the boil and simmer, covered, for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste for seasoning, add the remaining thyme, add the lemon juice and serve garnished with thyme sprigs.

Union members’ right to privacy‏

You might have seen news reports over the past year or so about construction companies blacklisting workers who were union members – refusing to employ workers or whole workforces because they were union members. The government is now attempting to pass a law which makes it legal for the government and appointed third parties to inspect union membership lists to see which workers are members and which are not. I don’t see why it’s any of the government’s business. Given this government’s other attacks on workplace rights (increasing the fees for lodging tribunals, for example, and trying to dismantle health and safety legislation) and their links with big business, I can’t see that any good will come of this for ordinary working people. I see it being a particular problem for people working in the private sector where union membership is not as strong and employers are often quite vocal about breaking unions (see numerous posts about “ethical” company Lush), but it could easily become a problem in the public sector too. And you could argue that employers wanting to get rid of people could use the lists to start with getting the non-members out first because they have nobody to support them. So this Bill is bad for everyone who is an employee.

The Bill in question is going through the House of Lords so the time for contacting your MP is past – now it’s time to contact a peer. has all the information you need and a handy email form to contact the peer of your choice online. Unions already have a vested interest in keeping their membership records up to date so this Bill isn’t anything to do with making records more accurate for our sake, it’s about giving the government the right to breach our privacy and pass that info to their corporate fat-cat chums. I’m a bit cross about it. Contact a peer today – do it now!

The trouble with the private sector is it gets to walk away (and it operates within the patriarchy)

Local authority social work departments have a legal duty to assess the needs of people with disabilities, and to provide services to meet assessed needs (in line with their eligibility criteria). They have no obligation to provide all of the required services internally; it’s acceptable to contract with external agencies to provide services on behalf of the local authority. Over the past few years, the free market has been invited in to social care services, under the mistaken belief that agencies would be falling over themselves to provide good quality care at reasonable prices.

Agency care workers regularly report not being given travel time to get between clients and not being paid for travel time, although travelling between visits is obviously part of their working day. Add to this the low wages, shift work, early starts, late finishes, weekend and public holiday work (yes, people still need help to get to the toilet on Sunday mornings and Christmas Days), the physical demands of the work, the psychological demands of remaining pleasant, polite and professional while a confused person rants at you or a family member yells at you because you’re ten minutes late having had to travel from your last visit on the other side of town, and the general dealing with pee, puke and poo, and you can see why many people decide it’s not for them and go off to other forms of employment. Care work is not easy work. Not everyone can do it or do it well. But it’s always been viewed as women’s work and therefore  it is under-valued (although not always under-appreciated) and underpaid.

This article states that

Turnover for domiciliary care staff working with older people has reached 28%, up from the previous year’s [2011] figure of 24%. Turnover for care home workers is slightly lower at 20%, but still represents an increase from 18% in 2011. The National Care Forum released the figures in their annual staffing survey, based on data from 40 organisations employing a combined total of more than 55,000 staff.

The most common reasons for people leaving their jobs were personal reasons (14%), dismissal (9%), and ill health (5%). The report showed the overall care workforce is ageing, with 46% of staff aged 46 and above. The NCF said this represented “a steady increase over the last three years”, while the proportion of the workforce aged 16-35 stands at 33%, compared to 34% in 201.

In 2011, Skills for Care published a report called Workforce Insight 2 –
Understanding Turnover and Retention in the Social Care – Research Report Findings 2011. This report states

Separating social care providers by ownership type, as in figure 3, we see that third sector providers exhibit turnover rates slightly below the regional average, private providers exhibit rates slightly above the regional average and statutory providers and other providers exhibit turnover rates which are markedly below the regional average; some 8% points lower, a difference of more than 50% in real terms.

Whilst exploring the differences between service types, we
discovered that whilst care homes with and without nursing were seen to have turnover rates slightly below the regional average, domiciliary care services were seen, on average to exhibit markedly higher levels of turnover than other forms of social care provider.

Whilst this insight accords with the prevailing wisdom, that domiciliary care providers have exaggerated levels of turnover, it is worth noting that in the case of the West Midlands sample there were a higher percentage of domiciliary care services which experienced no turnover incidents compared to other service types. Specifically, 33% of all services reported experiencing no turnover, whereas 36% of domiciliary care services experienced no turnover. This suggests that the high turnover ‘problem’ experienced by domiciliary care providers is actually experienced most acutely by a small number of providers.

Identifying these providers and supporting them to address their difficulties should be an important objective for Skills for Care and its local partners.

The report goes on to say that care workers have double the staff turnover than managers, and senior care workers have a slightly slower turnover than managers. They suggest that the high turnover among care workers could be linked to limited opportunities to progress from care worker to senior care worker, and new employees taking entry level care worker posts and leaving after realising the work is not for them.

Skills for Care also compared turnover in rural and urban areas, and found that (unsurprisingly) care workers tend to stay in their jobs when there are few other jobs to go to, but turnover is higher where other jobs exist. They say

This is significant not only because it helps to highlight the relationship between local labour market conditions but also because it suggests that social care remains something of a second choice occupation in those labour market areas where there is a choice of alternative occupations.
Having observed greater levels of job shifting behavior (and so higher turnover) in areas with higher job densities we can further hypothesize that mean wages of social care workers in these areas will also be higher as employers seek to encourage their employee not to seek work elsewhere, this would be particularly marked in lower-status
social care roles where the ties to a role may be weaker.

Returning … to our rural/urban categorisation we can see that average wages for care worker roles and senior care worker roles are indeed higher in rural areas than in urban areas. Registered manager roles are marginally more in urban areas; a likely reflection of the fact that managerial skills are more readily transferable and therefore more highly valued in the urban labour market than the rural labour market.

This report says that in England, 19% of homecare workers’ time was spent travelling. It also says that across the UK, roughly 80% of the care at home workers are female. And if they’re not being paid for travelling time, and travelling time make up 19% of their working time, they’re losing out on a fifth of what they should be earning.

No wonder the turnover is so high.

And when the turnover gets high, care agencies can’t meet their commitments. In my part of the world, I had been aware for a couple of months that one agency appeared to be having difficulties. Service users and their families were complaining that their allocated care workers were being chopped and changed. One woman told me her mother (who has dementia) received 29 different carers in the past two weeks. The agency acknowledged they were having difficulties providing staff, and we heard rumours of precautionary suspensions to investigate disciplinary allegations contributing to the staff shortages, a manager walking out without notice, and a management team being flown in from another part of the UK to take control. One of my service users asked me to reduce their care package from 2 workers for an hour morning and evening to one worker for 30 minutes morning and evening (because of an improvement in function and reduction in disability). That information was passed to the agency in early October, by phone and electronically. A month later, they were still sending in two workers for an hour, and said they had no idea they’d been asked to reduce the service. Disorganised doesn’t seem to be adequately descriptive.

And then on Monday, late in the afternoon, the agency in question emailed my employer with a list of people they are supposed to provide a service to, saying they were unable to cover the visits for the foreseeable future, and asking the council’s own homecare department to step in and cover, immediately. How on earth is a homecare department, reduced over the years as work has been outsourced to private agencies, supposed to cover several hundred hours of visits with only an hour’s notice before the first workers were due?

The home care managers and others have been working flat-out this week to find cover for the people abandoned by the agency, from within their own resources and from alternative private providers. Obviously, it hasn’t been possible to provide care to everyone at the times they usually get, or with workers they know, or in some case, to provide care at all. Families have been asked to help where they can, and I’m not aware of anyone who has been left with no care at all, but if everyone has been covered, by workers or by family, it’s been through good fortune and a lot of very hard work. It’s entirely possible that if this happened again, vulnerable people could be left with no care, because when you’re asked to provide 500 care hours, and you can only find the workers to do 350, something’s gotta give.

I’m astounded by how understanding the service users and their families have been. Yes, there have been grumbles, but on the whole even the grumblers have been reasonable and understanding in a situation where rants and shrieks and formal complaints would be understandable. One family member said to me “but the agency have just put the council in the same position the agency were in – trying to cover care with no workers to do it.” Really, they should be bellowing from the rafters their outrage that such a thing could happen.

Councils shouldn’t be outsourcing huge amounts of care provision. Of course there will always be people whose needs are best met by specialist agencies, such as specialist mental health providers, but the bulk of bread-and-butter home care should be kept in house, where the staff can be trained, paid and treated properly, and the service and staffing levels can be managed properly.

Where councils insist on contracting out their responsibilities, they should be specifying that the workers must be paid at least living wage, must be paid for travel time, must have access to a decent pension scheme, must have regular, good quality training and must have regular supervision – and the contract price should be one that allows for that. And if councils say they can’t or won’t do that, the whole of society should be asking why not? If we truly value the vulnerable people we have responsibilities to care for, shouldn’t we be doing everything we can to minimise the chances of their care provider walking away and leaving them without care? Shouldn’t we be doing everything we can to ensure that people with dementia have continuity of carers? Shouldn’t we be making sure that the people who look after our most vulnerable people aren’t driven out of their jobs because they just can’t afford to live on what they’re paid? Shouldn’t the men who go to work and make decisions rather than stay at home and care for their dependent relatives decide to value the work the women do to care for those relatives, rather than paying lip service to how much they appreciate it?