Much has been written about the big drop in funding across the social justice sector during the years of austerity and the additional levels of need created by the pandemic. Nevertheless, there are still plenty of examples of government funding sources which duplicate each other and create areas of excess and inefficiency.
This (lack of) co-ordination is the subject of a new report: “Making funding work for people facing multiple disadvantage” from Making Every Adult Matter (MEAM), a coalition of Clinks, Homeless Link and Mind.
MEAM discusses the development and implementation of a significant number of government programmes directly or indirectly supporting people experiencing multiple disadvantage over recent years. These focused programmes – and the funding they distribute to local areas – have been critical with many delivered during the Covid-19 pandemic under incredibly difficult circumstances.
However, work by MEAM found that the way in which government funding streams are traditionally designed, offered, coordinated and monitored can limit the collective impact they have for people facing multiple disadvantage. These findings were based on the views of local areas from previous research by MEAM.
The current report is informed by interviews with civil servants working at the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice, the Department of Health and Social Care, and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. MEAM brought this group together at a roundtable in May 2022 to discuss the challenges of cross-departmental work and to identify solutions to the challenges identified in the previous report. The discussion focused on three of the most pressing issues:
- Coordination between programmes and gaps in provision
- Remit of funding programmes
- Nature of funding allocation
The research found that despite a notable increase in government programmes directly or indirectly supporting people experiencing multiple disadvantage, the level of coordination between government departments has been inconsistent.
Some local areas have perceived a “siloed” approach by government departments, resulting in duplication of government programmes that focus on the same cohorts of people experiencing multiple disadvantage, often with similar objectives.
Local areas also recognised the restricting effect of departmental structures and the challenges of rapidly responding to Covid-19, which increase the risk of duplication.
Lack of coordination at the national level creates system challenges at the local level. Local authorities, working within constrained bidding windows for funding, and uncertain of which bids will be successful, find it hard to engage partners in detail on how different programmes will be joined up locally. This can lead to a duplication of work, where commissioners from different parts of the system develop bids for similar interventions that will support similar cohorts. Areas are then left to deal with any duplication only after the funding has been awarded.
Some areas noted that while there may be duplication across some funding streams, conversely there are also gaps in funding leading to a lack of specialist support for some cohorts. This issue was raised in particular for women experiencing multiple disadvantage, and for black and racially minoritised groups.
Overall, the report found that the specific remit of funding programmes limited reach and access. The specific focus of some funding programmes did not provide local areas with the flexibility needed to support people experiencing multiple disadvantage or to focus on systemic change. Funding prospectuses can often set strict criteria as to who can access support under a funded programme and for how long.
Funding criteria often resulted in programmes requiring individuals to fit the system, rather than the other way around.
The report also found that there was a lack of specific support for the ‘infrastructure’ needed for systems change. Systems change requires strong cross-sector partnerships, including people with lived experience, with sufficient time, resource and flexibility to trial new ideas and engage a wide range of local stakeholders. Embedding system-wide changes and ensuring they are sustainable long-term is difficult, often taking place incrementally and over a long period of time. In the context of the barriers described in the report, systems change remains an ongoing challenge for many local areas.
The nature of competitive bidding means that local areas are more likely to put forward bid proposals that will support the largest number of people. Areas reported that bids for larger-scale services for whole-population groups were seen as being more successful, rather than focused bids for specific services for individuals facing multiple disadvantage, or bespoke interventions for groups with specific characteristics.
There was a perception that application timeframes are too short. Local authorities found it difficult to meet very tight deadlines and extensive application and reporting requirements for what are often short-term funds. This can impact on the quality of bids and lead to less input from people with lived experience in the process. Some commissioners said they considered not bidding for funds because they didn’t have capacity.
Short-term funding timescales and the uncertainty over which bids will be successful means that there’s not enough time or incentive to engage in cross-system, strategic planning. It also affects recruitment and staff retention, with uncertainty for staff and for people using services at the end of a funding period.
Competitive bid processes also, by their very nature, mean that there is considerable waste of resources in terms both of those who bid and fail and the large investment in central government procurement systems.
The civil servants from the government departments represented at the roundtable discussion were aware of most of these issues and the report recommends that politicians and senior civil servants should explore how government can fund and lead longer-term programmes focused on systemic change and develop specific programmes that have a clear focus on increasing the capacity for local systems leadership.