Developing our message to government: the roles of central government and the voluntary sector

Earlier this month we published Multiple Needs: Time for political leadership. In the second of three blogs, our Policy and Practice Officer Laura Greason reflects on the nationwide consultation that helped shape it. This time, she focuses on the roles of central government and the voluntary sector in tackling multiple needs.

The need for central government leadership

A significant amount of work is already taking place across the country to support people experiencing multiple needs, much of it in areas using the MEAM Approach or which are part of the Big Lottery Fund’s Fulfilling Lives programme.

However, as we heard when we spoke to practitioners and people with lived experience for our new publication, there is a lack of central government ownership of multiple needs. One person told us that “Government is focusing on the number of rough sleepers and not the support complex needs clients receive”. Another asked:

“Are people in positions of power aware of what we mean by multiple needs? Do they know the detailed, horrific at times, stories about people to truly understand how complex and deep rooted the problem is?”

Respondents told us how government policies were causing homelessness and multiple needs, while at the same time other government policies tried to tackle the problems. People talked to us about the pressure to get people back into work irrespective of personal circumstances such as disability, with welfare reforms like universal credit complicating matters. Others argued that there was an over-reliance on the punitive elements of the criminal justice system rather than investment in preventative support such as mental health services.

There is a risk that government departments will continue to act in isolation from each other rather than reflecting the collaboration already taking place locally. By doing this, they miss an opportunity to create an environment nationwide that supports successful local work to tackle multiple needs.

The voluntary sector in successful partnerships

Another important point that came through strongly in the consultation was the role played by the voluntary sector in local multiple needs partnerships. In practice, though, the capacity of the sector is reducing at the time that the complexity of need it aims to meet is growing.

At this year’s Homeless Link conference, Karl Wilding, Director of Public Policy and Volunteering for NCVO explained that while small to medium sized organisations make up 82% of the sector, it is the small number of large national organisations that hold 80% of the income. As traditional grants have been turned into contracts, the situation has deteriorated further. Clinks reported the impact of this in the criminal justice sector in its 2017 State of the Sector report, where it found smaller specialist organisations are increasingly reliant on income from trusts and foundations.

This increases competition for resource and discourages the partnership working required for effective responses to multiple needs. We heard that “there’s a discourse about integration but austerity has led to increased silo working and maintaining the status quo”.

People we spoke to felt that when people experiencing multiple needs have been turned away from mainstream services – either because they don’t meet the threshold or conversely are considered to have needs that are too complex – it is often small locally-led charities that are able to identify these individuals and support them to trust and navigate services again. However as one person said, if larger organisations try to incorporate smaller ones, over time this local specialisation gets watered down and forgotten”.

The way forward

While the issues highlighted here remain a challenge, now is the time to engage with policy makers and politicians. The next year will see government tackle issues that have a direct impact on people experiencing multiple needs, including plans to end rough sleeping, deliver the new drug strategy, introduce the new Mental Health Bill and continue to improve prison and probation services. The MEAM coalition is committed to ensuring that each of these is seen through the lens of multiple needs.

In our publication, we ask government to ensure flexible funding is available that encourages areas to work together. This should include protecting funding to key preventative services, and ensuring sustainable funding is available for specialist voluntary sector organisations. We’ve also put this case to the Treasury in our submission to the 2017 Budget.

To share your thoughts on these issues or to find out more about the MEAM coalition please visit www.meam.org.uk or contact me at laura.greason@meam.org.uk. You might want to read my first blog on the importance on prevention; the third and final instalment coming next week will focus on the importance of listening to and learning from lived experience.

Photo credit: Whitehall by karanj on Flickr (used under CC BY-SA 2.0)

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