Age UK and 71 local partner organisations met this week in the Royal Mint near the Tower of London. It was an apt location given that we met to discuss, among other things, the impact of the spending cuts. Public spending, the Big Society and health and social care reform are some of the many challenges and opportunities third-sector organisations like Age UK face.
Who would have predicted two years ago that we would have a coalition government, £81 billion cuts package, the most radical reform of the NHS since its inception and far-reaching reforms to the welfare system? I certainly don’t remember any of the popular pundits painting this picture of the future. The ‘shock and awe’ tactics of the coalition government has provoked two challenges – what does the change mean for us and how do we seize the opportunities that it presents?
Part of the challenge is understanding what the Big Society – a concept that according to a recent Ipsos Mori poll say that 55% of the population have never heard of – means. It’s a philosophy not a strategy – radical and disruptive in its intent. It would be wrong to dismiss it as a PR or marketing gimmick. It’s the Prime Minister’s great passion. It is as central to Cameron’s agenda as choice and public service reform (albeit poorly articulated) were to Blair’s.
The key ingredients are:
- Transparency about Government and local government expenditure
- Driving decision-making down– to neighbourhoods where feasible
- Personalisation – personal health budgets, personal care budgets
- Freeing local government from central direction and control
- Promoting partnerships with the private and not-for-profit sectors and encouraging volunteering
The Big Society is already in action and being translated across Government departments (despite rumours some Ministers are as baffled by the concept as the public!). Keen local authorities have volunteered to run pilots, tempted by the offer of having first dibs at the Big Society bank.
The philosophy is clearly visible in the health and social care reform agenda. Reforms are being built around the four 4 P’s – prevention, personalisation, protection and partnership (between service providers – charities and the private sector).
Huge changes are afoot. A complete shake up of the way health services are commissioned – not only in terms of how, but who; a shift of power with PCTs and SHAs being scrapped and local authorities gaining responsibility for public health; and the creation of new bodies such as HealthWatch and the Public Health Service (quite something in this era of quango slashing).
We all need to understand what these changes mean and be better than ever in articulating the need and the outcomes we deliver. While acutely aware of the challenges change and cuts will bring, we need to ensure we seize the opportunities.
I’d really welcome your thoughts on the following big questions we face.
What are the implications for people in later life? How should we respond?
- How should we position ourselves in relation to the Big Society?
- What are the opportunities for Age UKs as a result of the health service reforms, and what do we need to do to make the most of these?
- How should we best equip our organisations for dealing positively with the effects of public spending cuts?