Mind your language

The sinister new meaning of ‘support’

Beware of social workers seeking to ‘support you into’ something

31 May 2014

When I asked my husband why paramedical professions were given to remaking the language in strange ways, he replied in a threatening tone ‘Whadya mean?’ I think he was in denial. But it is undeniably true that where two or three trained counsellors or disability campaigners are gathered together, the first victim will be the English language. Who was it, after all, that came up with the phrase ‘issues around’?

The latest craze is to urge the need for supporting people to do something, or even into something. So, on the NHS careers website, part of the job of a social worker may be to work  with offenders, ‘supervising them in the community and supporting them to find work’.

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This quite different from clinical support or the task of maternity healthcare support workers. Those might once have been called ancillary, but that is now a dirty word. Ancillary comes from the Latin for a (female) servant. But, although the National Health Service nominally promises service, the role of a servant, even a public servant, is despised. Support is a word that, like President Putin or the late Führer, is expanding its empire. We expect support from sports bras, football fans, pillows, voters and machines for those who can’t breathe unaided. There is a great deal of difference between support that is notional assent and support that is like hard cash or hard work. Supporting a principle like gay marriage is very unlike supporting an aged parent. We are born into the world crying out for support, and, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, ‘the group of older people with high support needs is growing’.

Since it is now apparently possible to support someone to do something, this latest development in the use of support is a syntactical leap. Help, one would think, was the word required. Yet I suspect there is a semantic difference. It is not so much help that is offered, but encouragement. Nor would it be surprising if a kind of social-workerly coercion were to be exercised: if the disabled, unemployed ex-offender will not follow the course urged, he will lose points, opportunities, even £££s. Donkeys are supported with carrots and with sticks.

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Show comments
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aW5pPXGrdTY Puss in Plimsolls

    Yes. But I do love my sports bras (and believe it or not, M&S sells the best ones!). They do support me, and when you are doing a downward dog or jumping jacks the support is very much welcome!

  • SomedayaRealRain

    And people who ‘need’ such support are now referred to as ‘Users’ – abbreviation of ‘service users’.

    • FrankS2

      What happened to ‘seekers’ – are job seekers, health-seekers, offspring-seekers, etc all to become ‘users’? Doesn’t quite seem the same, somehow!

  • Jingleballix

    Another term for ‘social worker’ is…….storm trooper.

  • Retired Nurse

    Its not only semantics – mistranslations are also at the root of these meaningless, drivelling phrases being used in government documents. All of them are based on (mis)translations of Council of Europe policy directives written in French.
    Cases are currently being won/lost in European courts on the basis of mistranslations of single words by armies of translators using ‘google translate’ -the main one being – must vs. should !

    A good example in the health and social care sector is the pepperspray of ‘You have a right to be treated with Dignity and Respect’ banners adoring NHS documents. The original EU directive (on which our Mental Capacity Act was based) doesn’t say ‘you have a right to be treated with dignity and respect’ at all, it actually says ‘Adult patients have the right to be treated with respect for their dignity, and for their autonomy’ – the word ‘autonomy’ (sa volonte) – which implies an ‘informed consent’ process – has been staggering omitted.
    Your consent has been needed for ALL medical treatment and social care since the MCA Code of Conduct came into force, along with a test of your capacity to give that consent.

    This mistranslation was the reason no ‘consent’ process at all was included on the Liverpool Care Pathway v.11 forms – and it wasnt updated until Dec.2009 , despite the MCA making it a MANDATORY legal requirement from 1st Oct 2007!

    This has also led to ‘tens of thousands’ of people being unlawfully deprived of their liberty (see Lord Hardie’s comments – Select Committee on the Mental Capacity Act http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/lords-select/mental-capacity-act-2005/news/mca-press-release—13-march-2014/ ) ; the Lords are going to review the matter again in a years time – they’re probably hoping that those who have been slung into ‘care’ homes and had their property sold off will have died by then.

    • Ooh!MePurse!

      Very interesting RN. Thank you.

    • Mrs Josephine Hyde-Hartley

      Respect of a patients privacy, dignity and confidentiality; together with autonomy, responsibility and accountability ( to the patient first) , advocacy etc were all part of the way nurses trained according to the UKCC standards – long before we signed up to the EU convention on Human Rights.

      Why do people argue about EU directives when our wonderfully generous ( largely unwritten) and therefore flexible UK constitution is quite big enough to enable all this and the best of compassionate practice to happen between patients and their nurses?

      Using the EU as an excuse to muck people about won’t do anyone any good and flies in the face of the principle of subsidiarity, surely.

  • Mrs Josephine Hyde-Hartley

    It’s the “reaching out” spiel that’s most annoying – as though workers try to pull the ” I am my brothers keeper” routine as a matter of their employment contract when targets have to be met.

    O and ” going the extra mile” is becoming terribly overworked and misdirected – as if it’s appropriate for workers, rather than ordinary members of the public to use such extraordinary powers to “reach out” and achieve things that too often really are none of their normal business.

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