Meeting the social services challenge

Local authorities across the country spend £17.5 billion a year on adult social services, but with 1.8 million new requests for support received every year and increases in costs of services1, councils are having to think radically about new ways of meeting people’s needs. Georgia Gould, leader of Camden Council, sets out how her council is approaching the challenge.

georgia-gould.pngSince 2011, Camden has been forced to find £29 million of savings from its adult social care budget as a result of government austerity. As a council, we have to explore new and innovative ways to provide the services on which our residents rely. For us, that means taking on a wider role as community organisers and connectors, and not just as service providers, focusing on how we can support people by working with their strengths, and those of the people around them.

As part of our research, we’ve spoken to citizens of all ages in Camden and asked them what kind of society they want to live in. A key discovery was that, though 80% wanted to work with their neighbours to improve their community, only 30% actually were taking part in activities that would help to achieve this. Understanding this gap is vital to determining how the council can help local institutions to make the connections that enable people to do more and facilitate a caring society.

Making connections through better conversations

In part, this is about changing the way that frontline social services build relationships with people needing care. Rather than doing a traditional assessment, we use the three conversations model. We empower social workers to have a conversation with each person to find out what they want in their lives, what’s important to them, and what connects them to their community. Of course, we have to talk about money. But we couch this discussion within a broader conversation around what the council can do to support each person with their care and how their community can help to meet their needs.

Including more people in making decisions

We use family group conferencing too. Adapting an approach that has achieved significant success in working with children and young people, we bring together everyone who is important in a person’s life and facilitate a discussion over how best to support them. We run around 30 family group conferences a year and recently produced a video following one of our clients, Alice, a charismatic Camden resident who has been able to maintain her independence with the help of friends and neighbours. We’ve found that local communities are often willing to step up and support people to stay in their own homes. This can save money, but more importantly, it gives people the chance to stay in their communities and live on their own terms.

A caring society
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Connecting people across the generations and organisations

As a council, we’re committed supporters of North London Cares, a charity that started in Camden and works to connect old people with young professionals. It’s not a home-visiting service, or a good neighbour scheme, but one that aims to create relationships and friendships across the generations, and has already connected more than 5,000 people across North London. Our research has shown that old people don’t want to spend time only with other older people; they want to be part of society.

All this needs to be supported by effective public services, so we make sure council services are aligned with district nursing services and GPs so that they look at the person’s needs as a whole. We’re thinking about how best to support that approach through our health and wellbeing board; how we invest in those services, and in the community organisers, who can to make things happen.

Tackling ongoing challenges

Adult social services are not just about older people. Another crucial element in our work is helping people with complex health and disability issues get jobs. Here too, we’re looking at new approaches, working with Futuregov, as we seek to make £5 million of new investment into our Employment Support services, helping people to find jobs that work for them and take into account their circumstances. It’s clear that the pressures on social services will only increase in the coming years, and that the funding we receive from government is unlikely to keep up with demand. But though money is important, the pressures on funding also present an opportunity to tackle the problem of a fragmented and isolated society, and bring people together. Our task is to deliver the communities that allow that to happen.

To get involved, join the conversation on Twitter at #ACaringSociety.


  1. NHS Digital, Social care spending up 556m as costs also rise, 2017

A caring society

Discover more about our programme to build a caring society  - bringing together a community who are committed to shaping the future of adult social care

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