Developing our message to government: lived experience

Following the recent publication of our report Multiple Needs: Time for political leadership, our Policy and Practice Officer Laura Greason (@l_greason) shares her third and final reflection on the nationwide consultation that helped to shape it.

The importance of lived experience

Yesterday I was glad to have an opportunity to share our latest policy publication with an audience of our MEAM Approach partners across the country: commissioners, practitioners and people with lived experience.

In the consultation process that informed this piece of work, everyone we spoke to agreed that “people with multiple and complex needs must be part of shaping service specifications locally and nationally”. For central government to play its role in doing this, it needs to understand the flaws in the current system. Nobody can explain these issues better than people who have experienced them first hand.

“A person with lived experience [can] give the government a deep understanding of the real issues and solutions.”

An increasing number of locally-led multiple needs partnerships are recognising the value of lived experience and the importance of employing people in a range of roles across their organisations.

For example, the Big Lottery Fund-supported Fulfilling Lives programme has supported a number of expert citizens groups to form across the country – in Stoke, Nottingham and West Yorkshire to name a few – which come together to form the National Expert Citizens Group. Some of these experts played an invaluable role in developing the content of our publication.

At MEAM we’re committed to achieving meaningful involvement of people with lived experience in all aspects of our work. Government must now play its part, ensuring that people with lived experience are not only involved in local service delivery but are at the centre of national policy making on multiple needs.

Creating a space

Participants in our consultation felt that not only should the voice of lived experience be louder within policymaking, but that there should be an appropriate space for this to happen. Ultimately that we need to “find a structured way to make sure the voices of people with multiple needs, and the frontline staff who support them, are heard by decision makers.”

We were told that government officials need to leave Whitehall, visit services, meet people with multiple needs and see their day to day reality. As our publication highlights, each person experiencing multiple needs is facing a unique set of challenges, frequently underpinned by experiences of poverty, childhood trauma, racial discrimination and gender based violence.

Everybody’s journey through services will be different, and discussion must therefore take place in a range of spaces and through different methods that support people to feel they can participate – including those who aren’t accessing services at all. Only by taking this approach can government ensure that future policy produces a system that better understands and responds to people with multiple needs.

Next steps

We’d like to thank all the experts by experience and practitioners that took part in the consultation process for our publication.

Based on what they told us, we’ve set out four keys steps that government can take to ensure a nationwide approach to supporting people with multiple needs. We’re asking government to:

COMMIT – by showing leadership as a government in tackling both the causes and consequences of multiple needs. This includes publicly committing to support both those at risk of developing multiple needs as well as those who are experiencing them now.

COLLABORATE – by taking a collaborative approach across government so that every department is working together to address multiple needs, modelling the approach that local areas have shown can work. To do this they will need to consult with local areas and people with lived experience to develop the shared outcomes we need to see.

CHALLENGE – by setting a clear expectation that every local area must take effective action to support people with multiple needs. This should allow commissioners, services and people with lived experience to design the best solutions to the problem, and ways of measuring success.

INVEST – by making sure flexible funding is available that encourages services to work together and allows them to respond to local needs. Secure, long-term investment would protect key services that prevent people’s needs from escalating, and create a sustainable base for specialist voluntary sector organisations that meet specific needs.

Now is the time for policy makers to address the needs of people with multiple needs and create the conditions for action. We’re inviting politicians from across the parties to work with us and our partners to implement these four key steps.

We encourage them to visit local areas that we’re supporting, listen to the views of people with lived experience and, most importantly, learn from their knowledge.

To find out more, you can contact Laura at laura.greason (at) meam.org.uk.

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