By Anna Page
A fortnight ago, we published our latest joint paper with Making Every Adult Matter, Progress on multiple needs and exclusions. This briefing revisits the recommendations we set out in our last collaborative work, Turning the Tide: A vision paper for multiple needs and exclusions, and considers the government’s progress to date.
Turning the Tide was published in September 2011 and outlined our shared vision: that in every local area people experiencing multiple needs are supported by effective, coordinated services and empowered to tackle their problems, reach their full potential and contribute to their communities. It called for the government to create an environment where coordinated services are the norm, and set out the five building blocks needed for this new approach.
We were clear from the outset that working closely with government to think through the challenging issues set out in the paper would be key to achieving our recommendations. We saw the then newly formed Social Justice Cabinet Committee as crucial, and were pleased to build links with the Social Justice Directorate at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
The first building block identified in Turning the Tide was a clear message from government that tackling multiple needs and exclusions is a priority. We called for the government to develop a top-level, cross-departmental strategy, drawing together everything the government is doing to tackle multiple needs and exclusions, and for local leaders to take up this message, leading action in their areas.
Only six months later, in March 2012, the government published its Social Justice Strategy, Social Justice: transforming lives. We had met several times with the team writing the strategy, and were pleased to see the strategy recognise the need for better coordinated support for individuals facing a combination of problems such as mental ill health, substance misuse, homelessness and contact with the criminal justice system. Drawing together work taking place across government, the Social Justice Strategy represented an important step towards achieving this first building block.
However, despite a dedicated chapter to “the most disadvantaged adults” and recognition that some of the most excluded people are individual adults, the strategy launch and subsequent media attention gave greater emphasis to early intervention, children and families. I’m not disputing the value of this focus, but am concerned that it may be at the expense of individual adults who are isolated from families who remain excluded and disadvantaged. In the coming months we plan to continue our engagement with the Social Justice Directorate, working with them to maintain a focus on individuals. Ideally, we would like the Prime Minister to make a speech which reiterates the commitments within the Strategy for coordinated support for individual adults. After all, it is a commitment from the Prime Minister to turn around the lives of 120,000 ‘troubled families’ that has led to renewed investment of time and resources across the country.
But a clear statement of commitment is only the first step. We are also working with MEAM and to take forward the other four building blocks: identification; accountability and leadership; outcomes and commissioning and finance. Encouragingly, a number of other partners are also undertaking work to move this agenda forward. For example, the new Lankelly Chase research programme by Heriott-Watt University to compile the UK’s first profile of severe and multiple disadvantage is an important step forward in the identification. While the crucial role of local leaders in addressing social exclusion is also highlighted by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s recent reportPublic sector innovation and local leadership in The UK and the Netherlands. The research finds that “radical public service innovation requires political change, not just managerial change” and that “place-based leaders who can demonstrate emotional commitment to the social inclusion agenda enable innovation to flourish, and encourage others to bring their own emotional energy to the task.”
As a small organisation focusing on a small, but extremely vulnerable, group of individuals, the task of turning the tide on multiple needs can sometimes seem very daunting. But I believe there is a growing recognition of the need for new approaches. Although work with ‘troubled families’ may miss out some of the most excluded individual adults, it is encouraging local areas to think about new approaches to entrenched problems. This is extremely challenging and many areas simply do not have the head space to think about how this can be applied to other groups. But with an increasing number of organisations recognising that it is not only families that have multiple problems, there may just be a glimmer of hope. Now, how to persuade David Cameron about that statement of support?