I hate ‘staff mugs’!

Yes, I know… Many perfectly caring and compassionate care workers have no problem at all with this sort of seperation. They use crockery reserved only for staff because that’s what they’ve always done. And they never give the practice a second thought. It’s just a cultural ‘norm’ in many care organisations. But I hate it. I hate it with a passion. Not because I particularly care about the type of drinking vessel anyone uses but rather because I couldn’t give a fig about it. But I do care about culture. I do care about perception and I do care about discrimination.

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Of course care workers who defend the use of staff mugs don’t talk about discrimination – they talk about hygiene. They talk about infection control and they talk about good practice and cleanliness. And so they should.

Obviously hygiene is important and clean crockery is an important part of the whole infection control system. That’s why we wash cups and mugs in the first place, isn’t it? But if we’re washing them properly does it really matter who’s drunk from a particular mug before? The whole hygiene argument for staff mugs makes no sense at all to me unless we have no faith in our own kitchen processes.

So are our cups and mugs clean or aren’t they?

If they are then we shouldn’t need to indulge in cultural discrimination. If they’re not then how can we possibly countenance sharing dirty crockery among service-users in our care? And how can we seperate ourselves from such a practice and then talk about hygiene?

Can we really justify giving our service-users mugs that aren’t clean enough for us to use ourselves?

Of course it’s not really about hygiene at all. The whole cleanliness argument is just a big red herring that generations of care workers accept uncritically because that’s what human beings do. We accept the status quo, especially if it seems trivial and move on to other considerations. But this isn’t trivia. This is a significant, long-standing cultural artefact of discrimination.

Care workers seperate mugs because the culture seperates people. Staff mugs are a vestige of the ‘us and them’ culture that devalues and disempowers service-users. We may talk about equality and shared care but our most fundamental values tell a different story.

So yes – I’m irritated by staff mugs. In fact I’m outraged by them. They may not be the most pressing issue in social care but given how little effort it would take to remove them they are inexplicably common.

And worst of all – nobody actually intends to discriminate against anyone by using them. But still they do.

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