Guest post by Mark Fisher, Social Justice Director, Department for Work and Pensions
Simon was 25 when he developed serious health problems that meant he had to stop working. The family drifted into debt. Social services became concerned about the children who were having a hard time at school and often skipping it altogether. Simply dealing with just one aspect of Simon’s problems was unlikely to work. What was required was a holistic approach to deal with the whole person.
This holistic approach is what lies at the heart of the social justice strategy. The strategy aims to prevent worklessness happening in the first place, to tackle the root causes of poverty, and to help people with multiple disadvantages to turn their lives around. If you are out of work for any great length of time it may simply be because of where you live but it is more likely to be because you have health or skills issues, a chaotic family life, or because you have had spells homeless or in prison. Tackling these issues requires a joined up approach and joined up thinking. It requires the taxpayer to move their investment upfront to pay for prevention.
That joined up approach also requires powerful partnerships, a strong dose of innovation, sharing the evidence on what works , and more effective sharing of information. So it is particularly relevant that April, as well being Social Justice month, has seen the launch of the Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing. Over two years as Chair of the Improving Information Sharing and Management project, I saw how working to resolve information sharing issues on the ground and sharing good practice could have a positive impact on people’s lives. So I am delighted to Chair the Steering Group of the new Centre, which builds on that work and extends it across England, and to new policy areas.
In Simon’s case, DWP and Southampton City Council provided support as a single team offering families with complex needs, the opportunity to access employment support alongside dealing with health problems, restoring motivation, and self-esteem and exploring aspirations. Simon is now in work and debt free. The Centre of Excellence will work intensively with a small number of areas to help them understand their local needs and redesign their services accordingly. The learning from those places will be shared on the Centre’s website and so I look forward to hearing more stories of the lives of service users being turned around, with the Centre’s help.