Citizen or Customer?

‘Our Customers’ says the senior commissioner for Adults with Learning Difficulties and my heart sinks. This re- categorisation of service users/people/adults as customers always seemed a fix that these public service providers used to de-humanise the people they serve. Only recently have I thought hard exactly why I had a beef with the use of this term. It gradually dawned on me that if you wished to reduce the public services you would have to take a leaf out of the private sector in managing demand and the first port of call is changing the lexicon within your profession. So instead of listening to them about their needs it is more cost effective to redefine those needs and what better way of doing this than considering a human being as a customer that you have to sell your produce or service to. The police and government have been told for decades that: we the public need more community policing on foot patrols, that we want to have our own named GP’s who are available the day that we make an appointment, that we have fully equipped and staffed nearby local hospitals that have no parking charges, that we have a cheap, efficient and effective public transport system especially in rural areas etc. As members of the public we expect to be listened to but as customers we expect to be sold to. The government have been selling its health cuts programme called Sustainability Transformation Plans to us the customer not us the voters. I’ve never heard of people demonstrating in support of the £100 billion Trident programme but I have heard a lot of politicians selling it as a product that we just must have. I have heard many politicians sell the lie – public bad private good, when the public and voters actually want a publicly owned railway service and publicly owned NHS. Let’s no longer listen to their publicity machines whose task is to persuade us that what they want is what we want. Customers get manipulated to buy goods and services they don’t need. People/Voters tell the bureaucrats and politicians what their needs are and what will happen if they’re not met.

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