Last week, I offered a list of truly awful policies, most of which were rolled out after the responsible politicians had been confronted with evidence that they didn’t work but went ahead anyway. I thought I’d follow it up with a list of social policies which worked, more or less, before governments decided to scrap them. It’s all part of the Great British tradition: find out what works and put a stop to it.
Hospital social work. Social workers were in hospitals for more than a century, first as “almoners”, then as medical social workers. It’s nearly forty years since I saw the work up close while on placement; alright, there was some bad practice, but there was good practice too. They weren’t always able to clear people out of hospitals, because it’s not possible to conjure residential placements out of thin air, but they were there for the patients and for the medical team. We seem to imagine nowadays that the way to bring social care and medicine closer together is to have a joint committee. If we’re serious about integrating health and social care, this is the way to go.
Mobility Allowance. Between 1975 and 1992/3, we had two main benefits: Attendance Allowance for severe disability, and Mobility Allowance for impaired mobility. Then mobility allowance was combined with Attendance Allowance to form Disability Living Allowance, and then DLA was translated into PIP. Now we have three sets of rules for mobility support – DLA for those under 16, PIP or DLA for 16-64, and DLA extensions versus nothing for those 65 and over. It’s unfair, it makes no sense, takeup is rotten and from DWP it seems that lots of the people who do apply don’t know what they’re applying for but think they may as well have a crack at it. Bringing back Mobility Allowance would make it possible for one part of the system, at least, to apply consistent rules and make sense.
Special case officers. After the reforms of the 1980s, the Department of Health and Social Security – later the Department of Social Security, now the DWP – put people in local offices with the remit to deal personally with the complex, difficult and sensitive cases that came their way. There’s an argument, of course, for dealing with everyone’s circumstances by nominating an officer for personal contact, but at the least it should be possible to invest social security officers with a degree of professional powers and respect.
General needs housing subsidies. Although the intention to get rid of subsidies was first expressed in the 1970s, it took decades for governments gradually to abandon housing subsidies and put the money into Housing Benefit instead. The only way to replenish our housing stock is to put money into it.
Universal Child Benefit. Child Benefit was always one of the simplest benefits, with the best takeup in the system. The principle was breached by the decision to exclude higher rate taxpayers, leading to confusion, uncertainty and millions of forms. If we want higher rate taxpayers to receive less, don’t introduce new, complicated tests: just tax them more.
Professional probation officers. Probation officers used to be social workers – in Scotland, they still are. Then the government in England decided that a private firms could do the job of supervising offenders just as well. We’ve just been hearing this week about some of the practices: “supervision” over the phone and failure to breach offenders amongst them. This is symptomatic of a wider problem (Economics 101 stuff). Private firms work by making choices; choices imply decisions about what to do and what not to do; decisions not to things involve risks; rational decision makers work to the percentages. If we don’t want services delivered by the numbers, we need professionals.
We could bring any of these policies back; some are expensive, some less so. Unfortunately, that implies that we might have to learn something from experience, and the main thing we learn from the lessons of experience is that many politicians aren’t interested in the lessons of experience.