How not to solve the prison/probation crisis

Since it’s a Saturday, I though you might like a change from the usual summaries of the latest research, policy documents and inspection reports. Today’s offering is a re-blog of yesterday’s post by Paul Taylor of Bromford Housing on the housing, health & social care crises, but I think it applies just as much to the situation in prisons and probation. You might not agree with his analysis, but I’m sure you’ll find it will make you think hard about what we do next.

You can follow @PaulBromford on Twitter and read his relentlessly challenging & entertaining blog here.

How Not To Solve The Health, Housing and Care Crisis

Crisis (noun)

‘a time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger’.

‘a time when a difficult or important decision must be made.’

The housing crisis can no longer be ignored.

Neither it appears can the crisis in health.

And nor can the social care, or ageing crisis.

Our repeated use of the word crisis is telling and perhaps applied a little too liberally.

In the past two weeks we’ve had two major health and housing conferences both crying out for, not unreasonably, immediate injections of cash.

How can it be that some of the biggest players in the social sector face a crisis at exactly the same time. Is it rising demand? Lack or resources? Or the impact of years of austerity?

Or is it something more fundamental. A deeper design flaw – thinking of people as problems to be fixed – that’s been there for decades, largely hidden beneath the surface, only now becoming visible.

On the face of it – resources shouldn’t be an issue.

The NHS and Social Care sectors employ 3 million people in the UK,  the social housing sector about 150,000.

In a population of 65 million that means every person employed in health, housing and social care only needs to look after 20 people. 

It’s a simplistic way of looking at things – but it’s done to consider two points:

  • How much of our impact across the social sector is diluted by our lack of connectedness? To paraphrase Simon Penny – why don’t we have seamless health, care and housing that isn’t compartmentalised, siloed and rationed across disparate organisations?
  • How much of our collective resource is tied up in back office ‘management’ rather than pushing ourselves ever closer to the community? The sheer number of employees and players involved suggest it’s not completely fanciful to imagine a health, housing and care connector on every street corner.

In her book ‘No Is Not Enough” Naomi Klein argues that , far from being aberrations, or even reactions, events like Brexit and Trump are simply a logical conclusion of the path we’ve been on.

An era of hyper-consumerism, of seeing houses not as homes but as ‘assets’, of seeing billionaires like Bill Gates and Richard Branson as the ones to solve wicked social problems.

An era in which organisations and brands come first and communities last. Where resources that are meant to trickle down rarely do.

Even if you disagree with Klein, it’s hard not to see the parallel with the social sector which has become increasingly corporate, paternalistic, brand obsessed and ‘on message’ over the past 15 years.

Brands threaten local community and social movements.  Whilst brands compete with one another for market share or ‘social space’, movements work with whoever wants to reach the same goal.

At at a time when we really should be working together to solve problems in the most effective way we often make decisions based on protecting our brand.

We Need A Plan, Not A Brand

Integrating housing, health and social care systems is complex. Each sector has completely different governance, funding and regulatory regimes. It’s not impossible but it’s highly unlikely to happen.

Perhaps the future will be re-imagined through grassroots movements , both at community and organisational level.

Perhaps it will be explored through people like Bromford and Wigan Council who have resisted the crisis mentality – and invested in services aimed at moving from reactive to preemptive. People like Redbridge Council who see the future of local government as people centred, experimental and collaborative.

As I outline in this podcast – people are up for change like never before – we just need to provide a compelling alternative to services perpetually in crisis.

  • If we are in a crisis then everyone knows the worst thing you can do is panic.
  • The second worst thing you can do is to throw money at the problem.

The demand issues that are hitting the social sector are a result of complex problems , including our way of life, environmental change, and even a lack of personal responsibility.

Injecting billions of pounds may give some short term relief but won’t tackle the root cause or return us to a golden age.

The past leads to the present. The road we went down got us here.

The true future of health, housing and social care means treading a path we’ve never gone before.

It means imagining something that doesn’t even exist yet.

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