……or damned if you don’t.
Media criticism of ‘initiatives’.
There is not a week goes by in Scotland without some new policy initiative being slated in the media. First it was baby boxes and this week it has been the 20p deposit return scheme. The media loves to stir people up with stories that undermine new areas of change in our society, encouraging criticism of our attempts to solve or deal with problems we have faced for decades. You can almost hear the words being spooned into the readerships mouths saying ‘who dreams this stuff up?’
Well to answer that question you can look back to a ‘Report on the future delivery of public services by the commission chaired by Dr Campbell Christie. Published on 29 June 2011.’
This set a whole series of principles which public agencies in Scotland have been working to ever since:
- public services are built around people and communities, their needs, aspirations, capacities and skills, and work to build up their autonomy and resilience;
- public service organisations work together effectively to achieve outcomes – specifically, by delivering integrated services which help to secure improvements in the quality of life, and the social and economic wellbeing, of the people and communities of Scotland;
- public service organisations prioritise prevention, reduce inequalities and promote equality; and
- all public services constantly seek to improve performance and reduce costs, and are open, transparent and accountable.
It opened up a can of worms and multiple threads of policy development in all areas of society. Thankfully it has some pretty useful common themes.
Assets based approaches; co-production; evidence-based policy- making; resilience; wellbeing are also new watchwords and some quite groundbreaking work involving participatory budgeting across Scotland has just began to embed participation at a local level when previously local people have very rarely been asked their views on anything at all.
Changes in society are complex such as the integration of Health and Social Care services.Complexity is not handled very well by the media in general with much of the press preferring the old monochrome view of good thing/bad thing. Very often everything ends up being reported with a bitter twist that undermines our efforts at reform and improvement. You might almost think the status quo was not to be challenged.
The importance of early years.
Changes based on data gathering and evidence should be encouraged you would have thought.Scientific evidence categorically proves the importance of early years in the development of children . In fact studies show that when the child is in the womb important life long processes such as vision, hearing and language are already starting. And by around 6 – 14 years all the major nervous system synapses that govern language, thought and sensory abilities have already peaked.
It is no wonder then that government policy needs to focus on Mothers, Babies and Children as a solid foundation of building a healthy society. A huge effort has gone in to improving services for early years and this focus is about that fundamental approach, prevention.By preventing harm now, or ensuring the baby has the best possible chance at development then a whole series of issues do not occur later, or the child is better equipped to deal with them. Baby Boxes are based on such evidence.
Housing and homelessness , a complex issue the press do not deal well with.
Prevention is better than a cure they say but prevention can also use resources more efficiently. This week there was the news story about Glasgow City Council where a new policy called ‘Housing First‘ is being piloted.This is a rapid housing model tackling homelessness working across a council, social bite (a social enterprise) and the Wheatley Group. Taking the most vulnerable out of the cities hostels environment and straight into their own tenancies is a radical approach cutting out a lot of the intermediary stages. Support is still required by not in a hostel or night shelter.
Discussion about it in the media has not actually congratulated anybody for attempting to eradicate homelessness. The headlines instead have been about homeless charities losing funding.
‘New partnership to eradicate homelessness’
– could have been the headline.
It is not that far fetched a claim switch collaboration and planning it is likely that homelessness numbers will be reduced.
It’s a radical move away from homeless people being segregated inside the housing system in hostels and other transitional accommodation. The argument around moving funding is that some of the additional support costs will no longer be needed.
It’s been a huge issue in Glasgow for years. Now they are close to eradicating homelessness through providing accommodation. People would still need to be supported to maintain their tenancies and address other issues around mental health and addiction but crucially other services are better able to engage with people when the person has a home such as the full range of health services we take for granted.
You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs
In any system-wide change, such as eradicating homelessness, the people who for years have carried the problem in the form city hostels and shelters, have been dependent on council grants. So when this radical approach comes along what happens?
It is only by adapting services that we will improve people’s lives in the long term.The skills of staff in those charities can be refocussed to supporting people to maintain their new life styles.There will always be a need for emergency hostel accommodation for those falling out of the system in crisis and distress but it is surely good to plan for the eradication of homelessness. We should not have to rely on hostels and night shelters which keep a pool of people in ‘the homeless’ system for years while waiting on a home.
Christie Commission and ‘initiativitis’?
When we see new policy initiatives there is a tendency in the press to present them as ‘gimmicks’ and new ‘stuff’ someone has just dreamed up but it is important to remember the fundamental principles underlying them.
How successful they are is another matter and is subject to constant audit processes.
We also need to acknowledge that an over abundance of ideas can be a form of displacement activity.
What we do need to do more of however is dare to be different and keep trying to solve the issues that blight the lives of many people. The press needs to report the good that people do, not constantly undermine them for trying.