RPP 17 2 Editorial

Research Policy and Planning: The journal of the Social Services Research Group – Vol 17 (2) 1999


Firstly apologies to those of you expecting the Annual Workshop edition of the journal. Despite the best efforts of those organising the conference, there were simply not enough full-length papers made available to sustain a whole edition. Hopefully making a virtue out of this necessity, we have decided to draw on a number of subsequent SSRG events to produce a special Workshop Highlights’ edition. Containing a selection of the best papers presented over recent months, this edition will be published at the end of the year.

We are particularly pleased that the Highlights edition will contain papers from the workshop organised by the SSRG’s Scottish region in November this year on inter-agency working. For some time the editorial board has been seeking to counter a tendency to ‘Anglocentrism’ within its pages and ensure that the journal reflects the interests and experience of members across the whole of the UK. To this end we are planning to commission a series of ‘Issues and Debates’ specifically focusing on contemporary policy developments in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The first of these papers appears in this current edition as Mark Drayford considers the impact of the new Welsh National Assembly on the organisation and delivery of health and social care services. Although fairly early days yet, Mark describes the powers and responsibilities of the new Assembly and the key policy issues by which it is likely to be pre-occupied. He concludes that much of its success will depend on its preparedness to listen to the views and experiences of those who work within the health and social care sectors.

The three main papers in this edition each reflect important policy and practice issues that cut across spatial identity. In the first, Ravinder Barn and Ruth Sinclair examine the challenges faced by local authorities in planning services for children and families from black and minority ethnic communities. Despite some advances, the authors argue that major changes are still necessary if local authorities are effectively to discharge their responsibility under the 1989 Children Act to consider issues of race and ethnicity in providing these services. While the composition of social services staff now more adequately reflects the diversity of local populations, and there is evidence of greater sensitivity in the placement of accommodated children, the authors’ study finds evidence of continuing confusion over work with children of mixed parentage and the need for more appropriate assessment skills. The authors conclude that further improvement requires the development of effective ethnic monitoring systems and the more systematic underpinning of needs analysis by considerations of race, culture, religion and language.

Paul Cambridge turns his attention to the problems and possibilities of joint health and social services commissioning of services for people with learning disabilities. The recent removal of some of the legal constraints over full joint commissioning, via the provisions for pooled budgets and lead responsibilities, he argues has enhanced its potential as a policy and political instrument. In the context of the government’s wider social policy objectives, joint commissioning represents a mechanism for reversing the fragmentation and divisiveness of the social care marketplace. In particular, insofar as it draws on the information generated by performance management systems, it represents a means of enhancing the achievement of ‘Best Value’ in learning disability. If it is fully to achieve its progressive potential, however, the author argues, joint commissioning will need to ensure greater involvement of the service user community and careful monitoring and evaluation of the specific arrangements that ensue.

The final paper, by David Cubey, examines the difficult question of how more effectively to target services at those in need. Attempts to improve this process have typically sought to apply general indexes of deprivation that may not be the most appropriate tools. In respect of services for elderly people, for example, the author argues that indexes of poverty or deprivation have only limited potential as indirect or proxy measures of levels of illness or disability. The paper introduces and evaluates a more complex index for assessing need and distributing resources within elderly populations, which is able to assess both deprivation and disability. While such measures may assist in planning the level of services within specific populations, however, the author warns, they cannot be seen to substitute for effective debate about the larger political questions surrounding the prioritisation of resources between different service populations.

We hope you enjoy this edition of Research, Policy and Planning.

Carol Lupton and Lesley Saunders

Joint Editors