The Big Society - Public Administration Committee Contents


Written evidence submitted by Home-Start UK (BS 71)

INTRODUCTION

The Home-Start network comprises 340 local Home-Starts in local communities across the UK - grown from one scheme in Leicester in 1973 because it makes sense to local communities. Local communities recognize that to support vulnerable families within their communities requires a framework. This framework enables volunteers to offer support to families in families' own homes. The offer of semi-formal friendship is a powerful one from which vital and serious work can be done to safeguard children and to make families and communities more resilient. The Home-Start movement is now represented across 22 countries worldwide. Recent research from the Netherlands indicates that participation in Home-Start was related to a greater increase in maternal sense of competence, which in turn predicted an increase in supportive parenting and a decrease in the use of inept discipline[138](Dekovic 2010). Increased parental self competence is a vital foundation for building the capacity within families and for those families to have the confidence to become actively engaged in their local communities.

It is from this foundation of 38 years experience that we submit this paper.

SUMMARY

—  Big society should enable people within local communities to work together to support each other.

—  There are very real impacts and consequences of reductions in public expenditure on the Government's ambitions to deliver its vision for the Big Society. 58 local Home-Starts are under threat of closure in the next 6 months and this number could double in the following six months.

—  The commissioning processes operating at a local level are not recognizing the additional social value of delivering public services through a volunteer led model and so are not recognizing the "big society factor" which is consequently at threat of being lost just when government is seeking to encourage it.

1.  A definition of what the "Big Society" is or should be

For Home-Start—"society" should enable people within local communities to work together to support each other. The scale "big"/wide/broad for Home-Start is in terms of the reach to people who feel and/or are disempowered with an offer which enables them to develop confidence and a sense of control themselves and then go on to contribute within their family and beyond. The offer of societal support is based on trust and reciprocity. There is a multiplier effect to working in co-production with people/families in this way. This trust is recognized in local communities and in 2009­10 Home-Start received 24% of its referrals direct from families themselves seeking support. In 21st century Britain this co-production is not however a spontaneous reaction which will take place between two individuals in isolation. The collective or society locally needs to have support structures in place to enable this to happen. The Demos Report; The Home Front-It is time to be honest about what good parenting involves[139] (2011) states that: "There is some evidence that Britons feel a "pulling away" of local collective responsibility……We tend to have a very anti-interventionist approach to other people's children. An international survey in 2006 found that Britons were less likely than citizens of most other European countries to intervene if they saw a young person misbehaving of committing anti-social or violent behaviour" P32-33. Connected with this diminishing sense of local collective responsibility is an increase in isolation. This is borne out by the needs expressed by Home-Start families. In 2009­10 just under 7,000 of the families who were supported by Home-Start expressed feeling isolated as a specific need. Part of the support offered to these families is facilitating their appropriate engagement with local services and amenities. This is a key step to building local networks based on the principles of empowerment and equality. Home-Start recognizes that at different times in our lives we may need help or we may be able to offer it. People should not either be trapped permanently in a category of neediness or be seen as belonging to a group whose geography means that they will never need assistance.

2.  Home-Start harnesses the goodwill of local parents, who because of their own experience, are able to offer emotional and practical support to others. Families need support for many reasons: they may be struggling to cope with postnatal illness, a child's disability, family breakdown or bereavement; or they may feel isolated and unable to connect with their local community. All sorts of families in all sorts of situations accept support brokered by Home-Start because it is delivered by volunteers who are making a commitment to walk alongside the family for a while and help them in the way that they want. There is no "doing to" the family; volunteers help to build on the skills and positive aspirations that exist within it.

3.  This relationship of equals has the capacity to transform situations and approaches in families that are struggling; and is a powerful example of the value of volunteering. However, it doesn't happen by magic - it happens within a highly developed framework. For Home-Start the Big Society is not informal or ad hoc; the capacity for volunteer action in potentially vulnerable families has to be harnessed and deployed carefully. And despite all the challenges faced by communities, we're proof that with the right framework in place it does happen - last year, Home-Start volunteers provided more than a million hours of direct support to families and the interest in volunteering for Home-Start increases year on year.

4.  The impact and consequences of reductions in public expenditure on the Government's ambitions to deliver its vision for the Big Society

5.  There are very real impacts and consequences of reductions in public expenditure on the Government's ambitions to deliver its vision for the Big Society. 58 local Home-Starts are under threat of closure in the next 6 months and this number could double in the following 6 months.

6.  There has been some discussion recently about the ability of small voluntary sector projects to scale up and provide service to a wider client group. Home-Start has scaled up. The most stable community organizations are those that have emerged from grassroots activity, where local people have identified a need and taken action to address it. This community development model is the one that Home-Start has used to grow 340 local Home-Start schemes across the UK HSUK staff nurture such beginnings, usually for one to three years, before a scheme is established. Well established processes and resources build on initial interest, ensures community consultation and needs analysis, through to the formation of formal steering committees who form the charity, raise the funds and the profile, appoint the first worker and then take on the governance role. This vital community development is lost when a local Home-Start closes. The capacity, goodwill and energy lost are incalculable. So closure of a local Home-Start has significant negative opportunity costs. It does not involve a simple transition of service from one provider to another - if another provider has been commissioned. It represents a diminution of the local community - a Smaller Society.

7.  The commissioning processes operating at a local level are not recognizing the additional social value of delivering public services through a volunteer led model and so are not recognizing the "big society factor" which is consequently at threat of being lost just when government is seeking to encourage it.

8.  The role of and capacity for the voluntary and community sector to deliver local public services including the appropriateness of using charitable income or volunteer labour to subsidise costs

9.  The voluntary sector already has a very good track record of delivering public services. The organizational structure has to be in place to support the deliver to specific contracts. Other charitable income should not be used to subsidise public service delivery. If the public sector identify that a project needs to be delivered then they need to be prepared to pay the price. There should not be cross subsidization from other charitable income streams to support public service contracts unless a joint funding arrangement is in place. There should be full cost recovery for public sector contracts and this should also include any monitoring and evaluation which is required. Any charitable income should be able to be used by organisations to deliver additional projects or services. If not, the danger is that we start to lose our creativity and ability to be innovative. A service package which includes volunteers being part of the delivery of the service is not a mechanism for subsidizing costs. It is an integral part of the service offer which will be costed appropriately. As outlined above there is an infrastructure involved in supporting volunteers to provide an effective and safe service. This has a cost associated with it.

10.  Possible problems and challenges from increased commissioning of public service provision from the voluntary and community sector as envisaged by the Government

11.  There is a very acute timing issue at present. In the medium term voluntary sector organizations could be well placed to deliver increased public services. However, the very local voluntary sector organizations which could deliver more public services are being decommissioned due to public sector funding cuts. The Transition Fund while welcome does not fully address this poor sequencing as it is very focused on a specific level of cuts from the public sector. Voluntary sector organizations are facing potential cuts from all sources of funding while also undergoing significant rapid restructuring to manage the new funding climate.

March 2011



138   Maja Dekoviæ & Jessica J. Asscher & Jo Hermanns & Ellen Reitz & Peter Prinzie & Alithe L van den Akker (2010) Tracing Changes in Families Who Participated in the Home-Start Parenting Program: Parental Sense of Competence as Mechanism of Change Prev Sci Back

139   The Home Front It's is time to be honest about what good parenting involves…." Demos (2011)
http://www.demos.co.uk/publications/thehomefront 
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Prepared 14 December 2011