A lack of solid evidence on the impact of advocacy could make it vulnerable to funding cuts, a new report has warned.
There was insufficient reliable evidence to say whether or not advocacy had a positive impact, found the research review by the National Development Team for Inclusion (NDTi).
The report, which looked at 83 documents about advocacy published since 1990, said the research tended to look at individual studies and anecdotes rather than drawing wider conclusions on advocacy.
The studies looked at in the paper also tended to rely on descriptions of advocacy rather than empirical, independently verified evidence, and tended to stress the potential of advocacy rather than its quantified impact and outcomes, the report said.
The papers reviewed also focused on the outputs of advocacy, rather than the outcomes it achieves.
The report found cost-benefit analyses tended to focus on narrow groups, like parents with learning disabilities whose children were subject to safeguarding procedures. Only a limited number of these studies could be deemed robust, but these all showed a financial benefit from advocacy.
Rob Greig, chief executive of NDTi, said commissioners faced with tight budgets, might decide not to fund advocacy without better evidence for its benefits.
“When you have activities like advocacy where there is limited evidence there is a risk it becomes an optional thing to spend money on,” he said. “If you can evidence the positive impact of advocacy that is what increases the ability of local people to argue for increased expenditure on it.”
The report recommended that a cost-benefit analysis of advocacy and comprehensive mapping of services should be carried out. It also said research should be done into the independence of advocacy and extent to which it adhered to good practice.
Greig said data collected by local commissioners could contribute to an evidence base about advocacy. Government and national research bodies could also fund more work on the subject, he added.
The paper comes after the government amended the Care Bill to give people a right to independent advocacy during assessment and support planning if they would otherwise have substantial difficulty understanding the process. Greig said there is some evidence that funding for advocacy is reducing but the Care Bill might help to reverse that. However without better evidence about advocacy there was a risk that the reduction in spending on advocacy could continue, he warned.
The study was funded by National Institute for Health Research’s School for Social Care Research.