A realistic starting point for Bristol Social Service Improvement
Obstacles to services improvement everywhere and the blame game goes on.
Whatever it is you set out to do in life, there are always going to be obstacles in your path. The more determined you are to achieve your goals, the bigger and more frequent the obstacles usually become. That’s certainly my experience working to create services improvement in the realms of mental health, addiction and homelessness services in Bristol since joining IF Group at the end of 2014.
The amount of good will and desire to see services improve is colossal. There is unanimous agreement that the demand for services far outstrips their ability to support everyone in need, service providers are doing their best to adapt their plans in the face of tightening budgets and government cuts and the numbers of people in need seems to grow by the day. This makes it all the more difficult to achieve services improvement and provide service to meet the needs of all who need them.
Traditionally, people spend more time playing the blame game rather than positioning themselves in a constructive role. It’s all too easy to get caught up in populist campaigns, spending an hour or so decorating a slab of cardboard with an anti-austerity catchphrase and chanting anti-Tory slogans. This does little to improve the situation, it doesn’t reduce the needs of other public services or remove the national debt or create a pot of money. That comes from working with what’s available and doing the best we can as the country pays of the overspend of recent governments.
The challenges to services and the detrimental effect on people’s lives due to mental health, addiction, offending behaviour or homelessness is not something that was created by the end of 13 years of Labour rule. Neither was it created by 17 years of Conservative rule. These illnesses and problems predate modern democracy and all political parties.
There was a time when people suffering the affects of addiction or mental health illnesses were simply locked up, extradited or murdered, sadly, that was less than 75 years ago in much of Europe and it still goes on daily in many countries of the Middle East.
So for me, looking at service support for people that, by fortunate accident of birth are not already condemned to death, have a chance to live a normal and happy life, puts me in a place of gratitude.
The blame game is just another barrier to improving services. The past cannot be changed and rewriting it is simply delaying the chance of creating a better future. Trying to rewrite the past also forms a barrier to understanding where we are now and the true trajectory of where service provision is heading.
Strip out political opinion, accept that we are where we are and no amount of moaning will miraculously find a lost pot of billions of pounds that can immediately be put to providing services with the appearance of a few thousand fully trained nurses, social workers, support workers that were waiting in a field for this miraculous day to come. We need them, but they must be found, willing and go through years of training.
Having a reputation for success in the field of addiction recovery and excellence in support services can also be a barrier to services improvement. Bristol, for example, is far more advanced than many UK cities in terms of strong support services and social awareness. That presents its own challenges as many people in addiction come to Bristol to find recovery. The city has a national reputation as a place to find accommodation in dry houses, strong 12 step fellowships and support services. This puts an even greater pressure on the services as there is a higher than normal increase in demand for them.
The problems of addiction recovery and mental health restoration are complicated and unique to every individual. Like every other illness or disease, they effect people differently. As with cancer, HIV, influenza, the common cold or hey fever, symptoms and bouts of attacks will vary in length and strength. They are also prone to return in greater or lesser strength at any time, often without warning or expectation. They are barriers to services improvement in themselves purely by understanding the nature of the beast.
Like rewriting history, there is little point denying the truth of the situation or any of the barriers that exist. Doing so only decreases the chances of overcoming them to create real services improvement. When you stand facing a brick wall, you can deny its there all you like but if you try to walk through it, you’re likely to end up bruised and the wall is unlikely to be moved or weakened. Successfully navigating each barrier with acceptance, understanding and awareness is the only option unless you’re prepared to give up and accept that things can’t improve.
No challenge will every be obstacle free, and obstacles can be circumnavigated if not removed. The challenge to increase funding can be met by showing the importance and value to society. There is a finite amount of money available and an infinite amount of causes, needs and demands on it. As with defence, health, education, transport, culture, the environment and energy, it is the responsibility of services to prove their case for increased funding. Simply expecting it or claiming that it’s wrong for the government not to provide it will never be a strong enough argument. For those that claim to care about welfare provision. Supporting support services and improving the lives of the most vulnerable, accepting this and working with organisations to achieve goals would help infinitely.
Trying to shame a government into accepting blame for something that predates politics and has seen service provision decline from all governments of all parties in the last 50 years, both nationally, regionally and nationally. will most likely create a government that avoids taking steps to reform that area. Making unrealistic demands for funding will also damage the chances of realistic funding improvements.
My hope is that a move towards a fair and realistic understanding of the barriers facing social care and support services will create an environment that allows service providers a realistic opportunity to overcome some of the barriers they face, free from the shackles of the blame game that mires opportunity for improvement and damages the relationships between government, treasury and providers. This is a vital step in the drive towards support services improvement.
Creating a forum of trust, honest research and reassessment of support needs in society, together with a plan on how services can work with those in need of support might be the most important barrier of all. The blame game will only ever be the greatest barrier to support services improvement.
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