If the new government wants to deliver, they’ll need communities’ help

Published: 28 September 2022

Photo by Mike Hindle on Unsplash
Five practical moves for the new government to empower local communities. 

This article was first published in The MJ

The UK’s new Prime Minister has come to power facing an extraordinary array of domestic and international challenges, along with the sad backdrop of the death of the monarch. But while the immediate crises, whether on cost of living or the war in Ukraine, will dominate her inbox, long-standing social problems endure and, if anything, are getting worse. 

For vulnerable children looked after by the care system, people leaving prison, or people receiving care at the end of their lives, their problems rarely make headlines – but their challenges are real and the costs to the system of failing them are all too high. 

At Social Finance, we look for ways to achieve better outcomes for people and communities. Drawing on rigorous analysis and deep insights from people at the sharp end of the issues we work on, we work with partners to make a meaningful impact on society’s most complex challenges. 

Government is a critical enabler to make change happen at scale – or, in the words of our new premier, to deliver, deliver, deliver. But in the UK context, central government’s delivery role is very limited. It is councils, local health systems, and community organisations that run local services and provide wider health and social support. 

We suggest five practical moves for the new government to empower local communities to make real change happen on the ground. 

Put data at the heart of children’s social care reform

The recent Independent Review on Children’s Social Care described a system skewed to crisis intervention, with unacceptably poor outcomes for children and costs forecast to spiral from £10 billion to £15 billion over the decade. It found that councils often lack the data and analysis to support improvement, whether to better procure placements now costing £3,800 per week for a child or to reverse the £2 billion per year swing from early support to more expensive late intervention. We urge the government to adopt the Review’s recommendations, including creating a National Data and Technology Taskforce. 

Empower councils to build and buy homes that they can let at genuinely affordable rents

The housing crisis affects those on lowest incomes hardest. Just under one hundred thousand households are still in temporary accommodation, while millions more struggle to rent or buy anywhere near their work or family. The acute housing shortage has also made it harder to meet the needs of refugees, one reason why 10,000 Afghan refugees are still living in hotels. Local authorities have a unique ability to shape their local housing supply, using local knowledge and working with their communities and local partners. Government should actively support councils to do just this, for example by enabling their access to finance at sustainable rates to grow the stock of genuinely affordable housing. 

Enable local areas to help the missing millions return to work

2.5 million people are out of work because of ill health, the highest number ever recorded. Unemployment is one of the top three drivers of poor wellbeing for the person – and it’s extremely costly for society. The best-evidenced models of employment support, like the Individual Placement and Support (IPS) model, involve tight connections between the individual, job coaches, employers and other community services like health. This close working needs to be led and owned by local areas. Government should double down on the investments they’re already making in IPS and related models, alongside new, locally-led programmes targeted at helping older workers return to the job market in a fulfilling and supportive way. 

Launch a cross-government effort to tackle multiple disadvantage

While mental health, domestic abuse, and homelessness are terrible burdens in themselves, hundreds of thousands of people experience several of these disadvantages at the same time. Our systems are not set up to help those people achieve their best life outcomes. Programmes like Changing Futures have started to help local systems change the way they work – joining up support between services, providing person-led support, and involving people with lived experience in decision-making and service delivery. Now it’s time for government to take the next step and drive a cross-government effort to support this way of working. Key to this will be to support local government, health, and the voluntary sector to work together to give people the holistic support they need. 

Bring end of life care from hospital into the community

Nearly four in five people would prefer to die at home, but only half are able to do so. New models of high-quality community-based end of life care have proved effective, enabling people to die with dignity. This not only brings resources into the community, where people need them, but it helps hospitals to recover from their pandemic backlog. The government should accelerate efforts by the NHS to help all those who want to die at home to do so. 

Making an impact on complex and enduring social problems will take more than government announcements. Our work over the past 15 years has shown that you need many building blocks in place to achieve impact at scale – and even then it takes focused, sustained effort to make change happen. 

Some people believe government has lost the ability to achieve real change. That’s wrong. Government can deliver. But only if it uses its resources to back people and communities, giving them the tools they need to take decisions and solve the problems that affect their lives. 

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