Don’t lose the focus on the user

There was a time when advocacy was something practised in a few
progressive places in the UK. Now as a result of Valuing People,
advocacy abounds.

Advocacy service level agreements are increasing, which is counter
to the advocacy ethos and one that compromises its independence and
ability to fully and openly support the service user. To sustain
this growth advocacy needs government funding.

One development is for providers to combine to seek larger funds.
This joint-working approach is what funders want to see and
reflects the growing need for advocacy services. All very good in
theory but there are inherent problems in this approach for both
smaller and larger advocacy organisations and most importantly for
service users.

First, advocacy organisations are in danger of becoming as
unwieldy, bureaucratic and institutional as those that they are so
often in dispute with. This is unlikely to be good for advocacy or
the service user.

Second, advocacy umbrella organisations are in danger of losing
sight of and alienating their service users, risking bringing
advocacy into disrepute by setting up what is tantamount to a
monopoly and possibly having a conflict of interest with
neighbouring boroughs, and being perceived by statutory
organisations and service users as knowing too much over too wide
an area. They also risk putting smaller, often successful, advocacy
groups out of commission.

If an advocacy project has its birth within a statutory body or
gets into bed with one at a later time how can it meet the needs of
service users? The answer is that it can’t. It will compromise
itself by being a large organisation in the mistaken view that it
can somehow control its service delivery sustainability in this

A result of this is that the service is likely to become less
user-focused because of business constraints on its practice and
service user disillusionment.

Bigger is most definitely not better especially when people with
learning difficulties are involved. Wasn’t that why we closed the
institutions? Let’s not create another one in advocacy.

Simon O’Corra is an independent advocate

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