If Tony Blair was Father Christmas, what would you ask him for?

We asked key people in the social care sector:-

If you could ask the government for one thing for Christmas to improve the social care sector, what would it be?

Mental health

Paul Corry, Rethink

We would love the government to commit itself to a fully-funded, long-term anti-discrimination campaign to raise public awareness, challenge public attitudes and shift the behaviours that presently prevent people with severe mental illness being fully socially included. We are happy to provide our own wrapping paper and ribbons.

Peter Beresford, professor of social policy at Brunel University and long-term service user

Speaking from a service user perspective, there is one thing I would really like for Christmas which I think would be a helpful and cost effective way of bringing about an improvement in the social care sector. It is for the government to support a user-led development project with a specific ring-fenced budget attached. We just never get these chances and yet the government we know wants the service user to be at the centre.
I would like the Health and Social Care Ministers (Patricia Hewitt and Ivan Lewis) to spend half a day with service users, meeting with us on our own ground, at a meeting which we as service users would organise ourselves.
We’d give them a nice buffet lunch. This would be a chance for them to hear back from service users some of our priorities for making the best use of limited resources. Like those telly programmes do, we could put a set of priority proposals to the Ministers and then they could choose which one they would fund us to take forward.
So the aim of this meeting would be to get a pot of funding from the government (say £100,000 – £250,000) to go to service users themselves, to set up a ‘user-led’ development project. The project would fit in with broader government social care policy and priorities, but it would be worked out, implemented and undertaken by service users themselves.
A workable number of service users would come to the meeting, but they’d reflect a wide range of viewpoints, including people with learning difficulties, young people, older people, mental health service users and black and minority ethnic service users. At the meeting we’d hammer out an issue that was a priority for all of us and then funding would be agreed so that service users could get on with the job. Then after an agreed interval we’d meet again with the Ministers and they would be able to see what we had achieved.
What about it Patricia and Ivan? We’d show you what we can be capable of. X Factor would have nothing on us!

Youth justice and criminal justice

Frances Crook, Howard League for Penal Reform New Asset

My best seasonal gift would be the ending of the use of prison custody for children. As a mother, preparing family celebrations for the holidays, I can’t bear to think that nearly 3,000 children will be locked behind prison bars. As a professional, I know that treating kids like this only makes things worse for them and for the rest of us, and that there are so many ways that we can hold on to our children in the community and help them get off drugs, make amends for the wrong they have done and find their place in the world.


Chris Stanley, head of youth crime, Nacro

I would ask ministers to talk down youth custody
Youth custody stands at the highest for sometime, over 3,000 under 18-year-olds are locked up at the present time.  Many of these are vulnerable young people with mental health problems and custody is the last place they should be. 
Custody should preserve for a small number of dangerous young people that need to be locked up to protect the public.
Custody is expensive and ineffective, over £50,000 for a young offender institution and £150,000 for secure training centres and local authority secure accommodation.  Re-conviction rates from youth custody are between 80-90% – custody does not work.
The current overcrowding means that young people are sometimes sent hundreds of miles from home, separating them from family and community.  Overcrowding means work to help rehabilitate: education/training, mental health and drug treatment will all suffer from overcrowding and constant moves. 
Resettlement is also more difficult.  Placing young people in suitable accommodation on release, reconnecting them with their family and community is becoming increasingly problematical.  All of these issues will increase the chance of re-offending on release. 
Ministers need to talk down custody and tell the public that custody is expensive and increases the possibility of re-offending – not reducing it. 
Community sentences that address the needs of young people by tackling the causes of criminal behaviour are the only way to reduce re-offending.
Robust community sentences that use restorative justice, working with victims and offenders, do work.
Ministers are key to reducing custody.  They must not mislead the public any longer, custody does not work.

New Asset


Pauline Campbell, campaigner

The impact of imprisonment on families is devastating, especially at Christmas, when many children are separated from their mother or father. I would like to ask the Government to address the underfunding of community-based punishments, highlighted by Lord Phillips, Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales. And to set a target to limit the size of the prison population, along with a sustained high profile strategy to talk down the prison population. This is a reasonable proposition, given that overall crime has fallen 44% in the last decade.

Children’s services

Robert Tapsfield, chief executive of the Fostering Network

If I could ask the government for one thing this Christmas I would ask them to acknowledge that foster carers play a vital role in the children’s workforce. Foster carers are expected to take on a range of professional activities such as attending court and ensuring contact, they also have to be skilled in many areas such as child development, attachment theory and education. I strongly believe that foster carers should be paid properly for their time, experience and skills and given the same recognition as their colleagues in social care.”

Hilton Dawson, chief executive, Shaftesbury Homes and Arethusa

An annual good parenting assessment for every local authority.
As part of their Annual Perfomance Assessment every County Council or Unitary Authority should be graded on their ability to be good corporate parents to the children and young people in their care. The mark they receive for this singularly important function should be decisive for the Council’s overall rating. If you’re not a good parent you’re not a good local authority.
I think that this would be the way to ensure that all the good intentions of Care Matters come to pass. If the Government can’t do it for Christmas let’s have a New Year’s resolution to get this into the Next Steps document and put it in place by the end of 2007.

Bryan Ritchie, director of the Fostering Network Scotland

If I could ask the governement for one thing this Christmas, I would ask the Scottish Executive to introduce a placement limit of three children per fostered family (except for larger sibling groups). Scotland is currently the only country in the UK which does not impose such a limit, resulting in overcrowded foster families. Currently, foster carers in Scotland are frequently being asked to look after four or more fostered children, in addition to their own. This is too much for any family; overcrowding puts excessive pressure on foster families, with the result that placements are breaking down far too often, causing damaging instability and disruption in children’s lives.

Learning difficulties

Andrew Holman, Inspired ServicesNew Asset

We have lots of gifts from government already, more toolkits than Halfords, more pilots than Stansted, copious equality statements and white papers with more new policies gathering dust on the shelves than ever before.
And yet, the majority of people in need of services or support tell us they are facing cuts, reassessments, new eligibility criteria and little or no help, so for them, very little has changed, or worryingly, matters have become a great deal worse.
So I would like a commitment from Government that they recognise fine words are not enough. I would like them to stop the pretence that all is well and things are getting better and would like them to close the ever widening gap between rhetoric and reality. Now that would be something good to see under my (very properly erected and electrically safety tested to best H&S standards) Christmas tree!

Older people’s services

Martin Green, chief executive, ECCA

I would ask the Government to pay the true costs of Care and stop exploiting the Sector and its dedicated staff.

Stephen Burke, Chief Executive of Counsel and Care
Urgent action and investment is needed to deliver better care and support for Britain’s ageing population. Growing discontent among older people, their families and carers about ‘patchy, inequitable and costly’ care cannot be ignored.
Counsel and Care’s recent Fit for the Future report sets out a range of practical measures that government can implement in its 2007 spending review and calls for a national
debate on a long-term strategy for better care and support for older people and how it is fairly funded. The debate should shape a public consensus about how the cost of care for older people is fairly shared between the state and individuals.
The spending review provides a once in a lifetime opportunity to tackle underfunding and create quality care and support that is comprehensive, fair and affordable and offers better value for money. Measures we would like see in the 2007 Spending Review include:

• State supported equity release schemes to help older people make better use of their assets and stay in their own homes

• Proper funding of care home places and fair implementation of a new continuing care funding framework

• Independent care advisers in every community and a national care advice service

• Ending means-testing for disabled facilities grants for older people

• Tax exemptions on care vouchers to help carers who work and extending carer’s allowance for pensioners

• A Sure Start for older people project in every neighbourhood and investment in early intervention and telecare.


Adam Sampson, chief executive of Shelter

With decisions around provision of social care increasingly being taken at a local level, there is a danger people will face a ‘postcode lottery’ as to the services they receive.

With this in mind, Shelter’s Christmas wish would be for the government to put in place a minimum level of housing support to which everyone has a basic right.  This would ensure the most vulnerable members of our society all have access to the support they need, when they need it.”

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