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Social Harm Impact Assessments To Counter Social Policy Indifference And Intent.

Social Harm Impact Assessments to counter social policy indifference and intent.

The idea and practice of care has developed over time; it is very different than it was even a short while ago. Look at the legislation and it is clear that care can and does change. History shows an incremental expansion of the idea and practice. It is changing again and rapidly.

We need a method of assessing the impact of any changes – will they bring social harm? We have impact assessments for economics and equalities. The impact of social harm is as observable as these others. Social harm is psychological, relational, social. It brings significant cumulative harm over a lifetime. Government inaction which creates social harm impacts both economically and emotionally

The concept of social harm helps highlight power dynamics, it makes visible the capacity to define ‘care’. A social harm impact assessment has potential to act as guardian that can challenge the authority that defines ‘care’, and highlights social harm, a legal definition will be needed. Any self-reflective government would want to have this assurance. Having a social harm impact assessment means a government reflecting on its actions. It means policy makers acting in and against the state. They can be both. It is a realism to be acting on behalf of and to change the state to be the one we need. We need to counter the idea that the state does not need to exist. We need a state that is empowering not disciplinary, where social policy is not directed towards rationing. This is hardly a radical concept – Plato discussed it in ‘The Republic’ almost two and a half millennia ago.

In view of what is occurring now in the idea and practice of care, it is being rolled back in our thinking and our spending, we need to construct a social harm impact assessment.

Changes in the Care Review are predicated on a constructed idea that care is not working for many. Studies show that for children, once they start receiving care, things improve; it is the rationing of care that increases harm. A social harm perspective shows how care is working for the few in the care system.

A social harm perspective also shows us the perverse way care is working for many. It allows the many to have the responsibility for vulnerable others taken on by authorised agents and agencies. It allows the rationing on behalf of the many.

This social harm is a safeguarding matter. This social harm is created by indifference and intent. A Government knowingly and intentionally creates harm.  There is calculative intent in the rational planning involved with social policy. That the state creates systematic harm is a safeguarding matter.

Safeguarding is more commonly used reactively in a child protection practice. A social harm perspective could be used to establish a resilient emotional security across all communities everywhere.

Our current public spending is lower than that of many comparable countries, our economic performance is lower and shows little sign of any upward trend, our tax take is lower than many countries. It is easy to think that we face managed decline of care as an idea and practice.

The 1989 Children Act took 10 years of development then action, the resilient consensus on which it was based was an achievement to which many contributed.

As we have seen recently with the stripping out of care as an entitlement for 16 years in the care system it can contract rapidly if there are powerful forces that seek its reduction, perhaps for reasons based on a family first ideology, or to curb state involvement and expenditure and to support a return to voluntarism through voluntary agencies or families, with local authorities offering residual services only. An analysis of recent Government consultations illustrate that they result in some necessary accessions to ensure the majority gets enacted. Proposals and consultations are made by a few people and organisations only. They do not represent a consensus. Precisely such a consensus was the strength of the1989 Act arguably the most impressive and enduring piece of child care legislation ever.. They result in changes firstly constructing a new idea and practice of what care is ‘about’ then follows change which is done ‘to’ rather than done ‘with’.

There is a redrawing of the definition of care, an individualised rather than a collective action of compassion, an act of a threshold of welfare rather than providing emotional security for all. The idea and practice of care that we have known is threatened.

Early intervention too can be drawn two ways, as providing a rich environment for all infants to grow with Sure Start centres acting as agencies of empowerment, or it can be as an intervention when something concerning has occurred, with reference to a Family Hub for individualised corrective action.

A social harm impact assessment shows how social policy/work/care has become too passive. It has had thinking and models from outside of it imposed on it, impinging on the way it thinks and acts. A good example is the way that commissioning of services is now taken as the ‘way things are’. Commissioning is administrative and financial/commercial with social work care commodified to fit; a health model was transferred rather than a social care one constructed. Though we try to make it more child-centred and relational its operational ambitions are sufficiency, numbers, not specificity, needs.

Care has to be brought from the margins to the middle. A social harm impact assessment is a significant pivotal point.

We need a reconceptualisation of care that is not the recipient of thinking and actions after the fact, but the origin. We need care at the centre of decision making. We need care at the heart of the Cabinet Office and across all ministries.

Social Harm and care need to be seen as societal not individual matters.

 

NCERCC