Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Till Death Do Us Pay

Breathless day in London...and its still not over.

Sat in the Library of the RSA where its blissfully quiet and welcomingly warm. A pocket of snug civility in the brusque pace of the London rush hour.

Opened the day at the Third Sector Taskforce (of which I was a member)presentation on Welfare to Work (W2W), . It was held in the glass towers of RBS, of which I now own a very small part.

Our key recommendation was that the sector needs a Social Investment Bank if we are to realise our potentia on W2W. Finance for under-capitalised organisations would bring down a major barrier to entry to charities and social businesses.

On top of this we recommended that strong `nudges' (positive incentives to good behaviour) be built into the contracts held by large, mainly private sector `prime' contractors, from whom charities and social businesses will mainly subcontract.

James Purnell, the Secretary of State, welcomed the report while being very clear that the social investment bank was above his paygrade. However, the word on the wire (gossip, essentially) is that the bank will get something but well short of the billions its supporters want.

The bogey around all of this, of course, is mounting unemployment. Those jobs down the supermarket, retail parks and building sites are now being taken by the freshly unemployed. Indeed, the real worry now is of a new generation of workless people to add to the one W2W was set up to catch. Speaking Up is not a W2W provder and, at the moment, I can't see us becoming one very quickly.

As usual, I blame this mainly on Gordon Brown and his bit of the Labour Party. Had they just let Frank Field do this in 1998 (rather than destroy his Ministerial career) when there were jobs aplenty then the problem would be long-solved. Another case of Gordon's political objectives (dissing Tony, becoming PM quickly) coming ahead of doing what is clearly in national interest. Bit of a theme now, one I am surprised the opposition don't make more of.

I slip out early to meet Damien Hatton, founder and CEO of Street League. Damien started his career as a doctor and noticed how bad the health was of homeless people he saw on A and E. So he set up Street League - a soccer initiative - in his spare time. Several years later he's working with several Premier and League Clubs in England and Scotland and being supported by Impetus Trust to take his model national.

We got on well. His story is very similar to my own, except perhaps I am at a slightly different point on the curve. His next stage is to build a high performing team so he has some options himself for the long term.

My advice, as always, is to recruit people you like and enjoy, who share the fundamentals of your vision and who are good enough to replace you if you ever go. Three massive boxes to tick but essential in any senior team. Left Damien feeling I wanted more, he has a great energy.

Next I go the launch of the Social Care Constitution by Demos at Westminster Hall. The logic of the Constitution idea is that we need, as citizens, to know what is meant by `social care', what we're entitled to, how it can be obtained and, in turn, what our obligations are as recipients. On the stand were Phil Hope MP, Minister for Social Care Greg Mulholland from the Lib Dems and Stephen Jackson from the Tories.

There is surprising consensus on the analysis of this problem (demographics etc) and solutions (need for reallocation of resources towards primary social/health care, personal budgets etc) but very little real agreement about what to do next.

The main challenge is to find a solution that is `fair', giving people people choice and individualised solutions but is also `equitable' and socially affordable. Unlike in health-care, co-payments (personal top-ups) are considered to be key to the future funding of social care, with a means-tested `basic' package provided by the state for those without the means to pay.

The limitations of the debate, pointed out by Simon Duffy, of InControl, are that the `costs' of social care are calculated without full account of how resources could be used differently across a range of areas that, together, contribute to a person's social welfare.

At its most simplest, when I become old, to remain active and independent I may well combine a range of resources to make that happen and in which traditional`social care services' (home-helps, nursing homes etc) actually play little or no part, even at the very end (when I will probably, in reality, spend my personal budget on a trip to Switzerland to die at a time of my own choosing, along, I suspect, with many others).

The theme of today, I guess, has been about how we, as a society, cope with the pressure of being just that - a society. How we square the collective obligations to face up to, and possibly reframe, big social issues with a the willingness of the wider society to act in in a timely and appropriate way. And how we use the state and civil society, together, to `bend' the way resources are conceptualised and used.

Dinner in Islington awaits me with my friend Owen Jarvis of Aspire Foundation before an early morning meeting with the CEO of Advocacy Partners, Jonathan Senker.

1 comment:

Rob F said...

As ever I’m left breathless just reading about your efforts to promote the Third Sector to Whitehall and beyond as a key player in the war on social injustice. I’m swayed particularly, though, by your penultimate paragraph’s conclusion that it is society that needs to take a long hard look at itself.

I’ve always assumed that the light-hearted jibes I’ve received about being a ‘do-gooder’ for choosing public sector over more explicit self-interest, are just the inevitable knocks when trying to change attitudes. Increasingly, though, I’m beginning to think that those of us interested in challenging disadvantage and discrimination have been brilliantly double-bluffed by those elements of society who, in gently mocking us for our efforts have also been left to bask in the freedom that comes from leaving others to worry about achieving fairness for those with disabilities, mental ill health, in old age etc

It has been, I’d say, too easy for many people in society to ignore the plight of the more vulnerable because they can leave that trifling concern to charity or social care to mop up. But my contention is that it is those attitudes which have to be swayed for meaningful change to ever be achieved for others.

As you suggest, the current climate and unemployment boom threatens to detract from the welfare to work agenda – but should we not see this as an opportunity rather than a threat? Is this not exactly the time for the argument to be made to those experiencing (perhaps for the first time) financial hardship, a lack of choice about where they live, finding themselves undesirable in the workplace, or isolated as poverty pinches their social opportunities that this is what it can feel like to many others in our society everyday, credit crunch or not. The trough in a capitalist economy is tough, we can empathise with them – imagine experiencing it without ever benefiting from the peaks, we should challenge.

Is there an opportunity to convey that those on the margins of our society have been encountering these social difficulties for decades, and they have done so without bailouts or wildcat strikes of support. They have been left with under-invested services and a handful of capable and dedicated people trying to save people, not institutions, from going bust. If we can get the common people on side, you might have more joy in getting the politicians to take the issues seriously.

As ever I know I’m verging on the idealistic rant and I’m not sure I or you or anyone should become the Robert Peston of the socially excluded, but perhaps this is the time when people might be more capable of appreciating what life might be like for those in society that in the good times they have been too busy to notice. Don’t stop trying to turn that system from within, Craig, but I also hope that ‘society heal thy self’ might catch on.