Let’s Revisit Barclay

Is it time to accept that the market provides few solutions about how we care for each other?

It is nearly 30 years since the publication of the majority Barclay Committee Report on the role and tasks of the Social Worker. In the intervening years these have changed radically, most markedly in relation to engagement with adults, and not in directions recommended in the Report. This, in hindsight, resulted from deep-set internal contradictions in the report that opened the door for the preconceptions of the government of the day to run riot and launch an experiment that, despite its inherent unsustainability and societal corrosiveness, rolls on.

Barclay observed that social workers “operate uneasily on the frontier between what appears to be unlimited needs on the one hand and an inadequate pool of resources on the other”. The report then went on to recognise the centrality of “informal care‟ and to recommend to general adoption of the community social work approach that had been witnessed in a great many neighbourhoods during the Committee’s exploration. In contemporary parlance they proposed that social workers should engage in:

  • Holistic approaches and coproduction
  • Promoting self-direction – personalisation
  • Supporting familial and neighbourly care
  • Community work engaging with the strengths and talents in the neighbourhood and nurturing local voluntary organisations and associations
  • Undertaking local social care planning on an inclusive basis
  • Balancing casework and community work
  • Coordinating access to mainstream and specialist services as necessary and advocating for their availability when required
  • Enabling, informative, engaging and empowering community social work – incorporating what we might now refer to as an asset-based mindset and a local area coordination methodology.

So far so good but all of this was “blown out of the water‟ by a final injunction that these “enablers and empowerers‟ should also act as “rationers and gatekeepers of scarce resources”.

Having understood that social workers operate in the real world where there will always be judgement calls to be made in respect of how available funds are most equitably and effectively applied the Committee chickened out of asserting that this is simply a fact of life and that the best way forward would be to implement the locally empowering and engaging community social work approach that constitutes the main body of its recommendations and to develop a skilled, trusted and developmental workforce to build a participative and democratic practice around how we care for each other in the UK.

The prevailing Governmental dogma of the time, a credo that insinuates every strand of orthodox thinking to this day, had the following key elements:

  1. That the country was essentially a business and should be managed as a business
  2. That business was objective and efficient whereas public agencies were unfocused and fluffy
  3. That everything boils down to supply and demand  –  and the laws of the market
  4. That it was Government’s job to respond to need and to fix things through the provision of programmes and services
  5. That, in the event that this approach was ineffective, this was the fault of the “management‟ rather than the concept.

So the businessy idea of rationers and gatekeepers was grasped enthusiastically (and purchaser/provider splits and social care commodities defined under the spell of retail guru, Sir Roy Griffiths) while the fuzzy and unbusiness-like stuff of self-determination, community and co-production – the relationship currency upon which community transactions depend – was consigned to a dusty drawer. Essentially neither Barclay nor the Government understood that the community does not function according to the rules of institutions and businesses and that the challenge of ensuring that we care for each other, and particularly the most needy and vulnerable amongst us, involves creating a virtuous relationship between the institutional and community worlds and that this is the business of Barclay’s Community Social Workers and today’s potential Local Area Coordinators. Nor did they really grasp the notion that programmes and services are simply complementary to how we care for each other; for most of us for most of the time this being supportive and preventative rather than fundamental, as long as we have attended to strengthening families and neighbourhoods.

So it did not take long for a pseudo-market to emerge to fill the space that it was itself creating. This was not a market of providers offering partnerships with families and their neighbours but rather of discrete silos with comprehensive “care‟ provided. The voluntary organisations born of citizen’s associating to realise their aspirations were redefined as nominally non-profit making competitors to deliver the commodities specified by institutions. Those that did not join the rat race tended to wither from neglect and demoralisation.

Most crucially the glass-half empty cult of needs assessment and eligibility burgeoned and concurrently the resilience and resourcefulness of communities was undermined and citizens joined their masters in a mindset of dependence upon professions and services. Over time the key ideas summarised in Barclay incrementally resurfaced. Personalisation, self-direction, inclusion, and most recently “Big Society‟ have all been adopted as central policies but, having been bolted onto a contradictory market and systems culture, have eventually been diluted out of all recognition. Most worrying has been the lack of passion and leadership exhibited by those charged with interpreting and implementing these policies. They might legitimately question why politicians have left contradictory injunctions in place but demands for a radical departure from the assessment and eligibility culture have barely been heard. In truth, over the last three decades we seem to have seen a transition from occasionally visionary and innovative leadership to one of defensive and bureaucratic systems administration. There is a need for radical change and we are forced to question whether this can be brought about through the current machinery?

Reforming ‘Social Care’

The following paragraphs constitute a starting framework for conversations and action research leading to the implementation of locally designed and neighbourhood focused social care coordination arrangements that are accountable and responsive to the communities served. This is not a blueprint and there is no silver bullet.

A radical model is espoused that, acknowledging that the resources available at any given time and in any circumstances will be relatively finite and never sufficient to satisfy demand through the provision of funded services (and bearing in mind that services cannot meet many fundamental needs such as belonging, loving relationships, opportunities for contribution, etc.), is not founded in processes of needs assessment and eligibility.

Instead – acknowledging and utilising the learning and methods of approaches such as Local Area Coordination, Asset (Strengths) Based Community Development, Planned Lifetimes Advocacy Networks, LivesthroughFriends, “Much More to Life than Services‟ priorities and Co-production – a model based upon Neighbourhood-based Community Social Work/Local Area Coordination is recommended balancing, as Barclay recommended in 1982, “case work with wider patch-based community work”.

Within this framework citizens in communities will be supported to care for each other by locally based professionals charged with securing good, loved, secure and contributing lives for all by utilising all the strengths, gifts and talents of that locality, including its fair share of the public purse, through the intentional building of more welcoming, interdependent, and inclusive communities.

It will take inspired and tenacious leadership to secure such a cultural „revolution‟ at all levels in public services. We have seen the system’s infatuation with pedantry and complexity exhibited time and again over the last decade in the contexts of self-direction, individual budgets, personalisation, and the so-called modernisation of commissioning. Real change will demand the ditching of “Fordian‟ management‟ systems and a real investment in trust and professionalism. It will require simple and transparent decisions about the devolution of funds and public resources to neighbourhood managers and, in time, their advisory groups of local citizens and a strong aversion to retaining central arrangements, resources, and too great a crisis fund. It will demand a commitment to catching people getting it right, to rewarding „good‟ mistakes, to making individualised budgets and community development funds central to the method, to supporting innovation and experimentation, to celebrating outcomes rather than chasing process, to long term vision and goals, to preserving and rewarding successful teams to ensure their longevity, to training and organisational development, to re-educating and re-culturing the populace and not succumbing to populist temptations, and much more.

However, the most urgent acts of leadership will demand all of the above activities and more in delivering the requisite number of significant demonstration projects to provide a properly researched and evaluated evidence-base for policy change of the order recommended. The potentially world-changing initiatives of the last decade, such as Transforming Social Care, Every Child Matters/Aiming High, In Control, and Putting People First have all been in part hamstrung because their implementation has been too often entrusted to those whose allegiance has been to a glass-half empty mindset and bureaucratic and service dominated systems, which have been progressed against a backdrop of raised eligibility criteria and financially driven priorities. The necessary demonstration projects will only have validity with commitment from all sides (the public apart, who deserve to be convinced or not by experience) to operate absolutely separately from the prevailing system and without additional constraints.

Individualism and consumerism have been the dominant themes of recent decades and, given a history of institutionalisation and depersonalisation in UK human services, it might have been expected that we might seek reparation by a strong commitment to individualisation. However, we had overlooked the fact that while we are all individuals our humanity and potential is mainly realised through our relationships and associations. The Neighbourhood Living Coordination (until someone comes up with a better handle!) approach recommended simply starts with the public resources available and links these to the strengths and talents abundant within every community and builds social care upon a natural and sustainable platform of relationships and associations. It provides a single, local and accessible point of contact supporting children and adults in their local community and is intentionally designed to:

  • Build and sustain helping and well informed relationships
  • Help folk spell out their vision for their good life
  • And support them in being creative and resourceful in planning for getting there
  • Support people through any immediate crisis
  • Help folk build personal networks and social capital
  • Support people to self-direct and manage individual budgets
  • Help people make best use of professional and supportive services
  • Promote self-sufficiency and interdependency
  • Link people into associations and community organisations
  • Actively and intentionally co-produce and build more welcoming and inclusive communities
  • Form partnerships and co-produce needed local facilities and resources
  • Provide accurate, accessible and simple information
  • Develop systems of participative democracy, social accounting, and performance and strategic accountability and responsiveness to citizens in the communities served
  • Make the best possible use of all the assets and resources available within the community served
  • Promote “Good Lives‟ and Welcoming and Connected Neighbourhoods.

A Final Thought …

The underlying message is very simple. The delivery of sustainable and truly caring social care is a remit beyond the scope and competence of business methods alone as are, it may be argued, many of the functions of public services. Business operates in a world of producers and consumers. In many public services, and social care is an excellent example of this, transactions need to be much more subtle and complex. Here the managed assets and talents of the programmes and services world need to be skilfully melded those of the cooperative and associational world of families, neighbours and community.

If we manufacture confectionary we will be interested in our consumers‟ views on our products and use their feedback to make our sweets all the more irresistible and our sales figures soar. It is a relatively simple relationship. Social Care is not like that. For the citizen to be truly in receipt of care we have to accept that the institutional world of programmes and services has to be complementary to his or her „natural world‟ of family, friends and associates and these have to be part of the production team. In the analogy they are not employees and will not be directed; indeed they are the directors. And where they do not exist in sufficient strength it should be the Social Care Co-ordinator’s task to seek to remedy that.

It seems that the Barclay Committee understood a lot of this but did not develop a coherent analysis about the relationship between the „institutional‟ and “community‟ worlds through which they could identify the implicit and fatal contradiction in their final recommendations. We would recommend that, working with our glass half-full, we should go back to the community social work elements they got all too right and resume our journey from there.

We will shortly be looking for demonstration sites. If you are interested in participating and want discuss this with us, please contact bob@livesthroughfriends.org or ralph.broad@btinternet.com

Bob Rhodes, LivesthroughFriends and Ralph Broad, Inclusion North.
February 2011.