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How to improve welfare: the secret lies in “co-production”

Initiatives from Wales are showing the way forward

By Damian Bridgeman  

Damian Green, Work and Pensions Secretary. "

The current welfare system is treating disabled people and people on low incomes as the undeserving poor. It is like something out of a Dickens novel. Welfare is to support and in certain cases provide a step up for some individuals. It is not to put them in a better place than those who do not receive welfare, but to fill the chasm in which certain people find themselves due to circumstances beyond their control.

In Abraham Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs, among the most basic are food, warmth and shelter. A civilised society has a welfare system to make sure that everyone receives these. To achieve an effective system, I believe that we need to use the principles of co-production, where we invite the citizen to take part in designing welfare and its processes and, in some cases, the exclusion criteria. My homeland of Wales provides some compelling examples.

Many studies have shown that co-production reduces welfare bills, as citizens find ways to do more with less. One example is the timebanking platform Spice, first launched in Wales in 2009, which encourages people to donate their time to local services. Another Welsh initiative that could be replicated across the UK is Invest to Save, a fund that supports the introduction of more efficient and effective ways of working into public services. The principle is that heavy investment at the front end of a service or product can lead to good returns in the medium and long term.

Imagine that we could decentralise the operations of the Department of Work and Pensions and give its money to regional devolved organisations, which are managed and controlled by a citizen panel with specialist advisers. I think that we would see cost savings and greater public engagement, as decisions would be made with the citizen at the forefront.

Another relevant initiative is Wales’s Social Services and Well-being Act 2014. This placed a duty on social services departments to work with the citizen to frame their own support needs. It also uses the concept of a “circle of influence” to see who could deliver what the state deems necessary in collaboration with citizens in their own community.

In another case study, a community in North Wales was given the funds usually provided to social services for a Meals on Wheels service. People in the community came together to form a social enterprise and had the local pub prepare and deliver the meals. This kept the money in the community and built on the sense of community togetherness.

The initial steps for Britain’s much-loved National Health Service were made in Wales, so could the rest of the UK learn from Wales once again? Sometimes, the experts are not highly paid civil servants but the citizen. I urge government bodies to consider setting up citizen-led advisory panels to draw on the knowledge that comes from personal experience.

These views are my own, and should not be considered the views of any of the organisations I work for 

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