RPP 18 2 Introduction

Research Policy and Planning: The journal of the Social Services Research Group – Vol 18 (2) 2000


The first SSRG Annual Workshop of the new millennium was held at Royal Holloway College, University of London. Its theme – ‘A Brave New World?’ – addressed the core issues surrounding the planning and provision of public services in the context of the government’s new modernisation agenda, with its emphasis on greater accountability, increased public involvement and improved collaborative working. Speakers and participants debated a diverse range of topics, from the general issues surrounding the provision and use of information and research to the impact of specific performance management frameworks such as best value, quality protects and joint review. As usual, the special Workshop edition of Research, Policy and Planning is able to provide details of only a few of the papers and presentations given, but we hope they provide indication of the quality and range of the discussions held over three very thought-provoking days.

The first two main papers deal in different ways with one of the most pressing social issues to confront governments of all western nation states as they enter the 21st century: the ageing of the population. As Tessa Harding argues, older people are making up a much larger proportion of the population, with increasing numbers in the ‘very elderly’ category. While many of these will enjoy relative good health and prosperity many others will require some form of social support. If governments are to meet this challenge, Tessa argues, and maximise the number of older people who remain active and independent citizens, they will have to address the endemic problems of paternalism and ageism that characterise current service provision. What older people want, she suggests, is ‘a life, not a care plan’.

One of the ways in which assistance may be provided without creating and maintaining dependency, is via the direct payment mechanism. Drawing on empirical research. Hasler and Zarb examine the implications of the extension of the Community Care (Direct Payments Act) for older service users. If the scheme is to be effective, they argue, considerable efforts will have to be put into ensuring that older people are willing and able to participate. Many will need significant amounts of advice and support to do so, particularly in respect of managing money and staff.

The third main paper, by Soul Becker, Chris Dearden and Jo Aldridge, examines the situation of a group of people at the other end of the age spectrum: children and young people who are caring for family members. These young carers, they argue, may experience a range of difficulties as a result of their caring responsibilities, including poor education, limited peer and social networks and impaired health and/or well-being. The result may be to delay or distort their successful transition to independent adulthood. While national policy initiatives since the mid-1 990s have resulted in some improvement to the situation of young corers, the main problem remains the lack of positive, family-focused interventions by professionals. in particular, there is a need to work with families in ways which support the parenting role of those being cared for as well as responding to the needs of young carers. What is necessary, the authors conclude, is greater awareness raising and training, appropriate services provided at the earliest opportunity and improved inter (and intra) agency collaboration to provide a seamless package of support to young carers and the ill or disabled adults involved.

In addition to the three main papers, this special edition of the journal also provides a selection of the large number of workshop presentations given at the Annual Workshop. These demonstrate the diversity of the topics covered over the three days and between them touch on some of the key issues surrounding the new performance management and assessment framework (social care data sets; performance indicators; management information projects; research dissemination) as well as the planning and delivery of effective services (best practice in services for people who are hearing impaired; joint registers for people with learning difficulties and the role of Primary Care Trusts in needs analysis). We hope you find this journal edition as interesting as the Workshop was to attend and that its contents are of use in helping you -as researchers, practitioners, planners or information managers – to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

Carol Lupton and Lesley Saunders

August 2000