Current moves to regenerate our towns and
cities offer social services the ideal opportunity to make sure the
needs of disadvantaged groups are met. Anthony Douglas
looks at how social services can play their part.
The sole item on the final Cabinet agenda
before the June general election was the future of regional
government in England. Regional government offices are becoming
more significant. The needs of each part of the UK are under the
spotlight and each village is developing its own plan and
showcasing its own identity.
Many towns are lobbying for city status, keen
to be seen as modern ecological and ethical working systems rather
than the industrial and semi-industrial towns and cities of the
last century. Governance structures are also slowly being
overhauled, with the election of the first mayors, and new power
structures that set out to include alienated and disadvantaged
Social services are ideally placed to play a
central role in urban and rural regeneration. Reducing the
vulnerability of individuals and groups and promoting their
well-being figures high on the community leadership agenda common
to all public sector agencies.
As Gurbux Singh, chief executive of the
Commission for Racial Equality, said recently: “Those authorities
that do not put race at the heart of modernisation are not actually
modernising anything at all.”
Modernisation includes taking practical steps
to empower people and groups on the fringes of society. Shifting to
a user-centred service cannot be done without breaking down several
The needs of service users can be promoted
through specific planning policies designed to maximise affordable
and social housing. Where there are concentrations of people with
specific social needs, facilities such as day care centres can be
bargained for as part of planning agreements with developers of new
When disabled people are included in the
detailed design and construction of new housing and facilities,
they invariably produce an improved design because they can
envisage what living in the development or using a facility will be
Service-user parliaments can be developed as a
way of formally hearing and acting on the views of users about how
their services are run and developed. Users can be involved in
training frontline staff in how to relate more effectively to the
people they assess and support. Direct-payment schemes can offer
more power and choice to users to buy for themselves the services
Social services can work positively with the
leisure and culture communities:
– To identify the needs of older people for a
mobile library service.
– To pump prime funding into community groups
such as painting and photographic societies, most of whose members
are aged over 65.
– For concessionary membership fees and prices
for young people in the care system, families in need, and local
carers, to use what the local public sector has to offer.
The needs of vulnerable people can also be
built into statutory community strategies.
Often opposition to developments such as
hostels and group homes for people with mental health problems
comes from a lack of awareness local people have of the needs of
people in their own community. Needs analysis can go a long way to
spelling out what support services are needed at the local level,
and to ensure that all plans and strategies produced take into
account those needs.
Social care services need to play an active
part in helping to shape the future of our towns, villages and
cities. Strategies produced without this input can unwittingly
promote social exclusion.