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VCSE sector can foster resilience and inclusivity in our communities

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Communities, Consultations and surveys, Guest author

Late last year, the Department of Health, NHS England and Public Health England commissioned a review of the role of the voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sectors in delivering health and care. The review has an advisory group made up of officials from these three bodies working alongside sector representatives and I was asked to be the independent chair.

Throughout the public consultation period, we’ve tried to stick to that ethos of co-production and openness. So whilst we won’t report until early in 2016, we have been reflecting publicly on what the sector has been telling us so far.

Alex Fox: There is a strong case for the VCSE sector to foster community resilience
Alex believes there is a strong case for the VCSE sector to foster community resilience and inclusivity

There much that we agree on. Everyone concurs that it is not sustainable to base our health and care services around reacting to crises and fixing people.

We are fortunate to have an NHS which is a world leader in many areas of medical treatment, but we have not yet found a way for health and care services to collaborate effectively with individuals, and with their families and communities, in ways which maximise the chances for people with long term conditions to stay healthy, well and independent.

If health and care systems are going to collaborate effectively with communities, they will clearly need to work with the community groups, charities and social enterprises which grow out of them.

The argument for investing in the capacity of the VCSE sector to foster resilience and build stronger and more inclusive communities seems particularly strong when it comes to reaching and working with groups and communities which are frequently under-reached or overlooked by services. Public Health England data shows that some groups consistently experience health and wellbeing inequalities. It is notable then, that we have heard from equalities organisations that they are experiencing particular difficulties in sustaining their work and having their voices heard.

In our interim report and consultation documents we have suggested that local health and care systems may need to develop more sophisticated ways of thinking about using a variety of partnership and investment approaches, including more outcomes-focused contracts alongside the use of grant funding, personal budgets, and social investment. There has been a lot of interest in alliance contracting for large, complex contracts which require a number of partners to collaborate and share risks and rewards.

Whatever investment approach is used, there appears to be much greater scope for use of the Social Value Act and its principles, in order to move away from narrow and short term funding goals towards a more holistic, long term and preventative view. This is a belief which values, for instance, the ability of VCSE organisations, which have maintained their community roots, to draw upon social action and volunteering. Some commissioners are already building social value into their tender scoring systems. In some areas, social prescribing initiatives ensure that the VCSE organisations drawn upon are properly resourced for the new work they are delivering.

My day job remains working for Shared Lives Plus, the membership body for Shared Lives and Homeshare organisations across the UK. In those small but growing sectors I can see evidence of the messages the review is hearing from the wider sector. There is greater recognition from health as well as social care commissioners that building community connections and social action can help people with long term conditions achieve levels of wellbeing and resilience which more medicalised models may struggle to achieve. However, it is also difficult for hard-pressed commissioners not just to free up investment, but also create the thinking space needed to partner with and develop new ways of doing things.

The messages from the review suggest that commissioners are more likely to do this when they work with VCSE organisations and the communities they represent as design partners rather than seeing them only as funding recipients or contractors. NHSE, PHE and the DH have demonstrated the value of co-production through co-producing this review and we’ve heard some great examples of local councils and NHS bodies taking the same approach to local planning decisions: the challenge now for us all is to demonstrate why and how co-production can become the norm.

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  1. Comment by Woolfie posted on

    Hi Alex, great blog. I am working on a very similar project on behalf of Cornwall Council and we are coming to similar conclusions. Perhaps we can share some notes sometime?

    In the meantime, this video shows you how collective cooperation within the social sector can achieve tremendous results:

    And this is exactly how we're about to approach things in Cornwall.

  2. Comment by Pamela Moffatt posted on

    Life for voluntary sector and other such organisations would be so much easier if only there were some degree of security of funding, however much that funding might be.
    It also behoves commissioners and others in those sort of positions of power to remember that good and worthwhile voluntary organisation do not run on volunteers alone.
    There needs to be somebody who has got a responsibility through a job description and funding to work good volunteers projects.

  3. Comment by Peter Durrant posted on

    As a long retired social/community worker it is good to see at least the mention of social and community enterprises in the early thinking. Unless we can all trade, in a number of way, 'for a social purpose' it seems to me that we are, as always, ignoring the promises and potential of alternative grass-roots upwards, pro-active networking models and the conscious devolution of power and authority work with, and not for, to people for too long on the receiving ends of services. This forgotten route is, of course, community development/community social work which has virtually disappeared in England. Although still strong in Scotland and Europe if you glance at the 'Independent assoc of community development' web-site available on-line. I am also living alone these days which, ironically, begins to confront me with the experience being on the receiving ends of services. With, sadly, little or no opportunity to use to my social work and community skills to make a positive, reciprocal and inclusive contribution to our community wellbeing. It's good to see the mention of this important concept in the Chief Social Workers Report. But the challenge now, of course, is to understand implement and posit a radical alternative to the status quo..