Thoughts on new directions in social welfare

On 15-16 October ESN’s CEO John Halloran spoke at the IBM International Social Sector Forum in Warsaw of the challenges facing social services in Europe, suggesting the need for a new direction for the welfare state in a turbulent environment. Below are some of the thoughts he shared with the audience.

"We have a proud tradition of care and protection over many centuries for the most vulnerable in our societies, whether by local communities, churches, philanthropic associations or the State, and whilst we have sought to maintain those values of solidarity, I believe it is time to look again at the impact of our services and to re-examine the role of public services and the relationship between the individual, their family, the community and the State."

"The social reformers of the 19th and 20th century acted with courage and humanity to improve the lives of those in need, which often meant separating them from most citizens into institutions, or indeed ‘institutionalising’ the relationship they had with their benefactors, even within the community. Society protected some of its citizens from the outside world and vice versa, and I would argue that in some respects we continue in that direction today."

"An increasing emphasis on human rights, the advent of a more personalised approach to assessing and meeting needs, developments in new technology, including social media and yes, the financial crisis, may collectively provide a platform for a new direction for welfare. There are exciting opportunities for more individualised and responsive services that deliver better quality of life through greater choice and empowerment and increases in communication."

"I believe that there are also risks, such as short term cost cutting, understandable and in some places inevitable, that may usher in simply ‘poor services for poor people’ with hand outs, not a hand up. The wrong use of technology can lead to ‘over standardisation’ in contrast to personalisation, with consequently less tailored and responsive solutions that stand less chance of success. There can be greater pressure on families, especially women, to shoulder the responsibilities for a dependent family member that is more than they can manage, and the danger simply that some people ‘go under the radar’ and cannot be helped before their difficulties become even more serious, with risks to themselves and perhaps others."

"Let’s do some longer term thinking instead and work towards more open government which builds citizen participation, promoting independent living and self determination. Let’s evaluate the evidence for personal budgets for service users and their carers and recognise that the timing of intervention is crucial to making a difference to people’s lives in the longer term and yes, also to their own and their society’s economic and social success. All this requires political leadership and vision. It values professional and managerial skill in engaging with citizens about their own future and working across service and sector boundaries in new integrated partnerships, using research and mutual learning to improve practice and drive up standards."

"It is about developing better data and using consultation to transform service design, contracting and delivery into effective processes that focus on personal worth and community cohesion."