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.
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?
Keith Fletcher is a social services consultant specialising in Best Value, Partnership and Social Inclusion.
© SSSP Ltd., September 2003