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21 Sep 2011
John Adams, VODG general secretary

Cuts care and co-production: vital issues aired at VODG Away Day

Might the recession be a catalyst for social care voluntary organisations to reshape themselves? How should care providers respond in a climate of rapidly dwindling public spending, fast-changing policies on everything from NHS to welfare and localism? What does it mean to be a not-for-profit provider in post-recession UK and what are the responsibilities of such organisations in the years ahead?

John AdamsThese questions - key planks of debate if the sector is to fully explore the future development of social care - were at the heart of the VODG’s annual Away Day last Friday at the Copthorne Tara Hotel, Scarsdale Place, Kensington, London.

In an effort to place the challenges we face in a wider social and economic context, we were pleased to have the participation of high profile speakers including Phillip Blond, director of think tank ResPublica and the man credited with creating the big society agenda. In addition, Rowena Crawford, research economist at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, offered an incredibly accessible, informative and engaging presentation on the tough financial outlook while independent think tank new economics foundation (nef) focused on the co-production drive that treats individuals as equal partners in care delivery, not passive recipients of care. John Nawrockyi of the Association Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) and director of adults and older people’s services at London’s Greenwich council spoke about the changing relationship between commissioner and provider.

Away Day participants heard first from the IFS’s Crawford who painted a clear and dramatic picture of what has led us to our current “age of austerity”. She described the “winners” as government departments which were due for less than average cuts, reflecting the intensely difficult financial outlook ahead. Crawford also stressed that one risk to public sector finance was that demands for increased spend on social care – following the Dilnot Commission report for example – would fall on deaf ears given the constraints on spending.

Subjects raised in this nef film formed part of the lively debate at the VODG away day

Next, Phillip Blond argued that a centralized economy and culture in the UK has had a detrimental effect on society and what is needed are new models and partnerships for care. Social and financial capital are inextricably linked, said Blond, suggesting that if people’s personal budgets were pooled, they could capitalize on their power.

Can those being supported by social care be encouraged into some sort of asset ownership in the sector, he asked? What if, Blond suggested, the people who lived in Southern Cross homes, owned the homes themselves? The sector could be a catalyst for elements of the Localism Bill which allows communities to have more input into what happens in their local areas.

Lucie StephensMuch of this kind of innovative work is already, of course, already being carried out by VODG members and many of those present have worked to this inclusive and empowering agenda for years.

Lucie Stephens (pictured left), new economics foundation head of co-production, and Julia Slay, senior researcher and social policy programme co-ordinator, developed the discussion with an evidence-packed session on co-production. Stephens presented 2009 Nobel winner Elinor Ostrom’s definition: “Co-production implies that citizens can play an active role in producing public goods and services of consequence to them”.

Among the key features of co-production said Slay, are:

  • recognizing people as assets
  • building on people’s existing capabilities
  • promoting mutual aid and reciprocity (ie give and take)
  • developing personal support networks
  • breaking barriers between professionals and recipients
  • facilitating rather than delivering

Benefits to co-production, the nef speakers suggested, include strengthening social networks, improving well-being, preventing needs arising and transforming public services and making them sustainable. They stressed that co-production is not the same as volunteering, consultation, co-designing or personal budgets - important elements in care and support as these are – and while there is an economic case for following the agenda, co-production is certainly not a panacea.

Given the VODG’s desire to work more closely with ADASS on the transformation of social care, we were pleased to hear from the organisation’s John Nawrockyi who spoke on the need for more transparency and co-operation between councils and care providers. The forces for social care reform, he added, include new models of local government and the need to respond to market conditions.

The away-day speakers reinforced a growing awareness of the need to look for radically different, co-produced models of support. Co-production needs to be prioritised at every level; health and wellbeing boards could play a crucial leadership role here.

Providers are under tremendous financial pressures as a result of funding cuts and so they need to invent new ways of working which embrace whole community solutions. The most innovative and flexible providers are developing solutions which go beyond simply delivering high quality support as an end in itself; unless the support is also empowering, providers will never transform social care.