Apparently I’m a complacent Fabian. I’ve just got round to reading Peter Beresford’s book, All our welfare (Policy Press, 2016). Throughout his career he’s argued consistently for greater participation and empowerment for user services. This is not his best work – I wanted to see more about what he’s proposing – but it continues to make the case. He doesn’t like conventional studies in Social Policy (he lays into Peter Townsend at some length), and he certainly doesn’t like what I’ve written. He cites this section from my text on Social Policy. To keep the comments in context, I’ve bracketed off some bits he’s left out.
[The recipients of social services are not only disadvantaged in terms of their relationship with producers … The stigmatisation of recipients, their lack of resources and status, and their vulnerability pose important problems for the social services. The development of formal mechanisms for protection, and substantive rights, offers a means by which the people who receive services are not solely dependent on decisions made by the producers of welfare; these rights represent one of the most important means through which recipients can be empowered. But the social disadvantages remain;] people who are poor, disabled, mentally ill or unemployed cannot be expected to overcome the problems they face simply because they have more effective control over services. [There are then limits to what it is possible to achieve in the narrow context of service delivery.] It is important, too, not to overestimate the potential effects of this kind of procedure. Dwyer lists some of the key objections to user-based approaches. There are conflicts of interest between users of different types; users are often in competition for scarce resources with others; user groups can lose touch with their grass roots; and the process as a whole can contribute to the exclusion of marginal groups.
Last year I posted some material from a text that was complaining that I was part of a left-wing conspiracy. Now it seems I’m part of another one, to suppress people who are marginalised. Beresford writes (pp 355, 363):
It is difficult … not to detect some degree of complacency in social policy academic writings. These have shown a reluctance to take on the bold new ideas and arguments developed by welfare user movements. A strong sense of Fabian ‘business as usual’ lingers. … [This] leads to one, more privileged, group offering its prescriptions for another, marginalised and devalued, group. How else can we explain the routine exclusions that books like Spicker’s seems to rest on?