A version of this article  appeared in "Community Care" magazine 6-12 July 2000 under the title "Partners in prevention". It is reproduced here with the agreement of the editor.

Social Inclusion and Social Services

Social services need to become more directly involved in their local social inclusion and health improvement agendas and Best Value provides a useful platform for them to do so.

About two years ago I participated in a seminar on social services and social inclusion. The majority view then seemed to favour a survival agenda: simply bringing up the quality of directly provided and commissioned services to an acceptable standard, was as much as the service could cope with. The task of social services was to cope with the social chaos and disadvantage created by society. Responsibility for reducing the social chaos lay elsewhere.

At the time it was a difficult position to challenge. The seminar took place in Wales, where the impact of local government reorganisation though two years old, was still significant. The North Wales Inquiry was in full swing; morale was low and every day seemed to bring some new crisis of service or funding, or both.

These problems have not disappeared in the past two years of course but the climate of governance has changed radically. Then it would have been very difficult to argue the case for priority to be given to anything other than raising the standard of service output. Now the Best Value agenda gives greatest value to how people feel about the results. The Partnership agenda makes it clear that those results are to be judged increasingly on how the public services perform as a whole. And after a rather shaky "bits and pieces" start the Government's Social Exclusion Unit is strongly promoting a strategic, corporate approach to social exclusion/inclusion. Social services are now firmly included in the business of draining the swamp in addition to their statutory responsibilities for pulling people out.

An effective social inclusion strategy would make life better for the clients and potential clients of social services many of whom are among the most excluded and disadvantaged in society. But what can the service itself contribute?

Young people excluded from school;
families evicted as bad tenants;
young offenders more likely than before to find themselves in prison;
people with learning difficulties or a mental illness excluded from normality.
Other services tend to see the consequences of difficult, challenging or criminal behaviour for the wider community. Social services are more likely to see the consequences for the individuals and families at the centre of the storm.
To establish the strategic climate in which this contribution can be made in a systematic and improving way demands commitment, resources and a long term view of the benefits which will accrue. But at least there is no longer any doubt that permission exists to do it: it is now a policy demand.

Keith Fletcher is a social services consultant specialising in Best Value, Partnership and Social Inclusion.

SSSP Ltd., September 2003