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By Debbie le Quesne

Social reform: Are the answers in grassroots debate?

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I recently stumbled on an article by Professor Peter Beresford in The Guardian and his comments are worth sharing in this blog.

He is emeritus professor of social policy at Brunel University London, professor of citizen participation at Essex University and co-chair of Shaping Our Lives.

He notes that 70 years on from the creation of the welfare state, social care is one of the biggest, most important and yet most neglected social policies.

“Now another new government needs to face up to the vital need for radical reform,” he adds.

Indeed, that’s so true, but also frustrating. We meet up with Ministers(as we did Paul Burstow in London) and suddenly they are gone – taking with them all the good work we have shared. Such is the political arena.

Prof Beresford’s message is clear – social care reform must come from the grassroots

I quote: “The spending cuts made in the name of austerity over the last six years have especially hit local authority social care.

“This in turn has particularly hurt the growing numbers of older and disabled people needing help, including mental health service users and people with learning difficulties. While the rhetoric surrounding social care has been all about integration, the tendency is still to treat it in isolation.”

This is someone who has a good handle on the underlying issues of funding – the root of nearly all social care ills – and the frustration we feel in trying to get joined-up thinking between the NHS and residential and domiciliary care.

He observes what he describes as the “grassroots reality which shows the human face of welfare reform like that presented by Ken Loach’s award-winning film I, Daniel Blake.”

Based on research and interviews by the screenwriter Paul Laverty, this movie tells the fictional story of Daniel Blake, a middle-aged widower in the North East who can’t work or get benefits after a near-fatal heart attack.

The internet trailer is challenging and introduced for me a broader horizon of how ‘The Cuts’ – ‘Austerity Measures’ – call it what you will – have impacted our lives and how food banks have become ‘normal’ in an increasing desensitised society.

I find myself questioning: What is social care coming to? How has this been allowed to happen and what more can I do to help educate those who handle the finances of Government and seem unable to find funds for us.

Prof Beresford is the author of a new participatory social policy text, All Our Welfare, and he highlighted that there really are alternatives, both to old-style welfare state and current “neoliberal privatising welfare” reform.

Interesting – mental note; must find out more!

David Brindle, the Guardian’s public service editor who chaired an All Our Welfare launch debate, referred to the post-war welfare state as a revolution and asked what kind of revolution we need now.

On the panel, John McDonnell, shadow chancellor, emphasised the importance of developing a new narrative for a new welfare state, reminding us that its founders not only created a new architecture, but also “won the argument” so that for years Conservative governments continued to protect it.

“It’s narrative that wins,” he said.

Significantly, this was a different kind of debate because it included the groups more often talked about than having a chance to do the talking. Representatives of Disabled People Against Cuts, Shaping Our Lives, other disabled people’s and service user organisations, campaigners and user researchers, were present in force as well as the policymakers, academics and researchers more often encountered.

Is this the way we must go?

Summing up, the professor writes: “This was one occasion that demonstrated that there are very different ideas out there about a future for social care and welfare, which come from the bottom up. But they tend to be hidden or devalued and we need foster these green shoots. This is perhaps already beginning to happen. . . .

“For me, the key question posed by writing All Our Welfare was, how should people look after each other in a 21st century society? The launch debate showed that there are already many answers in the making – if they are only allowed space to surface.”

Wish I could have been there . . .

 

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