People in power don’t think they have power


Most people who are thought to have power don’t think themselves they have power.

Let’s look at those thought of as traditionally having power[1].

In the world of health, we hear about the “power” of the clinician over the “patient”; in care the “power” of the social worker over the “service user”. In the world of services the commissioner is the most powerful, and in the civil service we think that power resides with (Prime) Ministers or Permanent Secretaries.

Inevitably, the person at the top of any organisation is often thought to be the most powerful: the higher you go the more powerful the people get.

And, to some extent, this is true: their decisions affect larger and larger numbers, whatever those numbers happen to represent (people, staff, money).

So how can it be that the person thought of as the most powerful in the world can lament his own lack of power?

It goes back to my opening: if you ask those people listed above who are traditionally thought to hold power, I doubt very many of them would feel anywhere near as powerful as they are perceived to be by other people.

Take a social worker: from the point of view of someone who uses care services the social worker is incredibly powerful: they potentially determine what money you do/don’t get and what types of services you can access. But if we ask the social worker about their power they will talk about the pressure of their caseload, the policies they have to implement, the limited number of providers that exist on their patch, the pressure from their manager, and several other factors that all act to curtail their power to act.

Ask the social worker’s manager if they are powerful. They’ll probably laugh at you and say they have a team of social workers completely under the kosh who don’t fill out paperwork in the way they should do. They’ll be harangued by management for implementing lovely sounding changes there is actually little resource or appetite to put into practice. They’ll be getting phone calls from providers at all times about placements that are breaking down, and they’ll be pestered to complete monitoring data they’ll never see again by people they’ve possibly never met.

Commissioners in the same area will be thought of as having the power because they hold the purse strings. When they look up from reading the scant information about the latest priority they have to reflect in commissioning intentions with no new money, alongside the 78 other priorities they’ve been given, they’ll tell you that big providers call most of the shots, or that health commissioners are in the driving seat now. For what it’s worth, the supposedly powerful providers will tell you they’re being asked to do more and more for rates that are decreasing rapidly whilst under greater regulatory scrutiny.

At the top of the care staffing pyramid, the director of social care will tell you about the unrelenting pressure of upward demand, downward resources, their obligations under the Care Act, the threat of judicial review from any one of tens of families who have been treated poorly by their department, a recalcitrant workforce working in a culture that can’t be shifted, and the waffling politics of their portfolio holder and the local health and wellbeing board. They want to do good stuff in and for their local area, but the politics (big ‘P’ and little ‘p’) significantly curtails them.

And on and on it goes: “powerful” people for whom power is little more than juggling clouds.

What to do? The only reflection I can give is to try to recognise:

  • The person you think has power probably doesn’t think themselves they have power
  • Helping them in their relatively powerless position will probably help you as well
  • To someone somewhere in the system, you are the person with power.

[1] – There is, of course, a vast literature on all types of power in a variety of different settings. I’ve not gone into that at all here, but a useful starting point for the interested reader is Chapter 10 of Fred Luthans’s Organizational Behavior (pdf).


It’s person-centred, Jim – but not as we know it

We all have our favourite “I can’t believe that actually happened” stories in social care.

Mine relates to care and support planning: whilst observing a panel process (error number 1), a Head of Social Care instructed a social worker (error number 2) to change a support plan so that all sentences were “I” statements (error number 3) from the point of view of the patient [sic] (error number 4), without going back to the person themselves (error number 5).

It would be funny if it weren’t so normal.

But we hear variations of this all the time, summarised in the line:

Of course what I do is person-centred care – it always has been

If we are honest, relatively little of what currently happens in the care and support system is person-centred (though we’re definitely moving in the right direction).

This being the case, we should ask ourselves: if it isn’t person-centred, then what is it? I think there are at least four alternatives:

  1. Money-centred care: where what people get is what commissioners can either afford, currently buy, or have always bought
  2. Provider-centred care: where the primary objective is to ensure the ongoing feasibility of an organisation rather than the people it serves
  3. Process-driven care: where filling out the paperwork or keeping the IT system happy is the main driver
  4. Professionally-driven care: where the professional knows best and tends to think of the person in front of them as another one of their caseload or a walking set of conditions

Thinking of it in this way shows why the drive to person-centred care has been so difficult: it requires significant change on a number of major fronts – the flows of money, the role of providers, the supremacy and comfort of process, and the culture of professionals.

It’s why I’m personally so excited about person-centred care and what it means for the future. It isn’t just an optional variation of what we’ve always done; it flips public services as we know them on their head. To make this happen, though, we need to be clearer on the alternatives that being person-centred is replacing.

Social care council tax precept: the beginnings of an opportunity?

social care precept
The distribution of revenue raised for each council per head by the social care precept (Source: Richard Humphries at the King’s Fund)

First, some facts on where we are with local government and social care spending:

  • Local government saw a 37% real-terms cut in government funding between 2010/11 and 2015/16 (NAO (pdf), executive summary)
  • Adult social care expenditure fell by 8.7% in real terms between 2010/11 and 2014/15 (NAO (pdf), para 1.15)
  • There has been a corresponding fall in social care activity in all areas of social care: homecare, day care, nursing care and residential care (between 2008/09 and 2013/14 – when data is available) (NAO (pdf), figure 4)
  • Net local government spending per person (excluding public health, education, police and fire services) has been reduced by 23.4% between 2009/10 to 2014/15 (IFS (pdf), table 2.1)

Second, the effects of the social care precept. (Recall that the council tax precept for social care was introduced in the 2015 Spending Review, and is the ability of local government to raise council tax by up to 2%, as long as it is spent on social care.)

  • LGA analysis suggests the council tax precept for social care would raise £400million in 2016/17, but only if all 152 local authorities used the precept in full
  • The average Band D taxpayer would see an average rise of £24 in their council tax bill if the precept were used in full in 2016/17 (LGA)
  • (The LGA has previously estimated that the social care funding gap would grow by at least £700 million in 2016/17. The introduction of the National Living Wage will cost councils at least £340 million in 2016/17 on top of this gap)
  • Though the Treasury thinks the social care precept will raise £2billion by 2019/20, the King’s Fund notes the precept will (a) widen the gap in provision between richer and poorer areas, and (b) raise at most only £800m a year.

It’s hardly grounds for optimism is it?

And yet, I find myself wondering if there are reasons for hope in the social care precept? I suggest this for two reasons:

  1. By saying that social care costs can be met by a centrally-enabled (general) tax, it feels to me that the government has set a precedent for funding social care through general taxation. This has not been an option government has realistically considered before, though there are plenty of ways general taxes can be levied and used (see, for example, pp.31-37 of the final report of the Barker Commission (pdf))
  2. People will notice if their council tax bills rise. They’ll probably not appreciate it, and will want to know why their bills have gone up by an average of £24 for social care alone. We know that the general public has very little awareness of how social care is funded (see Chapter 2 of Ipsos Mori’s research for the Dilnot Commission (pdf)), so this therefore represents a communications opportunity that could begin to put social care (and how it is funded) on a par with the NHS in terms of public awareness.

It’s not much to go on, but the ability to make the case for adequate and sustainable funding for social care needs all the help it can get. The social care precept itself is neither adequate nor sustainable; but it might be the beginnings of an opportunity.

Links and reading on (1) achieving change, and (2) organising work

I’ve been thinking and reading a lot lately about different ways of doing stuff. By ‘stuff’ I mainly mean (1) ways in which change is achieved, and (2) ways in which work is organised.

I thought it might be useful to put the most influential things I’ve been reading in one place – partly for my own reference, and partly for others to have a look at the source information if they so wish – so that’s what I’ve done below. It’s arranged into two lists (achieving change, organising work) and I’ll update it as and when.

Achieving change

Organising work

Decompression: a personal appraisal

In conversation with a colleague they mentioned in passing they had been in their current role for 11 years. It was at that point I realised I had been working only for 9 years in total – I don’t celebrate my ten-year work anniversary until June 2015.

This provided a useful perspective and set off a series of interconnected, personal thoughts about where I have been, where I am and where I’m going.

Orson Welles, when asked about why he achieved what he did in making Citizen Kane at the age of 26, said it was due to arrogance and ignorance. He didn’t know what was and wasn’t achievable in film and so simply went about achieving what he wanted to.

There is a whole literature dedicated to age-achievement curves, broadly considering at what age significant contributions to different disciplines are made. In a paper on age and scientific genius, Jones, Reedy and Weinberg[1] note that the median age of “great achievement” (typically Nobel prize-winning contributions or equivalent) is 37 in maths, 40 in physics, 43 in engineering, and 45 in surgery and psychology.

Age-achievement curves

Exploring these differences in more detail, it is noted:

people who excel in abstract fields, like art or physics, tend to be younger than those who win prizes in fields that require more context, like history or medicine.

Even within abstract fields there are variations: theorists generally make their greatest contributions earlier than those who are “experimental” by just over 4.5 years.

If we look to the humanities we see that great contributions tend to come later in life: the average age of Nobel laureates for literature is 65 and for economics is 67.

Nobel laureate ages

There are basic reasons for these age-achievement curves:

The most obvious factor is education: Scientists spend ages 5 through 18 in school, and then ages 18 through 30ish getting their academic degrees. Then a few years of learning on the job… Meanwhile, scientific breakthroughs tend to be less common in old age because we invest less in learning as we get older, and our skills gradually become less relevant.


The most important conceptual work typically involve radical departures from existing paradigms, and the ability to identify and appreciate these radical departures may be greatest shortly after initial exposure to a paradigm, before it has been fully assimilated.

Is there an equivalent age-achievement relationship in public services and the public officials who run them? It is difficult to know because arguments can be made either way – for people being younger or older when they make/made a significant contribution – and I don’t think there’s a literature that has considered this question[2].

My feeling is that people are probably older when they make significant contributions to public services. Assuming it is possible to attribute changes to the effects of one particular individual, making that change happen requires things like seniority, the ability to persuade others, and having the chance to build a reputation over time – characteristics that come, mainly, with age.

What does this mean for how I feel now?

As a younger man I was in a hurry, partly because I’d been a late starter. Now I am much less so. The ignorance and arrogance of youth – the things I didn’t know I didn’t know – carried me so far; the ability and leeway to ask questions or offer challenges that other people didn’t was present. This, coupled with a strong work ethic, meant some progress on things I was involved with could be made.

Experiencing things for the first time in the world of work was a blessing. I had fresh eyes. There was no sense of the routine, no jaded feelings from having been here before. There was no chance to say: “I remember when…” or inclination to lament: “We’ve tried that before…”. By definition, the things I was then involved with and at what level I operated weren’t as sophisticated or complicated as they are now, and so lent themselves to a progress of sorts.

In the earlier stages there had been no seeing behind the curtain and realising the Emperor is at best only partially clothed. I was optimistic, not cynical. Cynicism or the (temporary) loss of hope or optimism is one of the hardest new realities to deal with. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” “We must become the change we want to see in the world.” These are all true and yet none of them are true.

Things change.

Political HorseshoeWork-wise the issues are more complex, more nuanced, more serious; less easy to solve, less easy to understand and less easy to address. The decision points become finer, the judgments more balanced, the action less direct and the influence more subtle. The implications are bigger – for people, for staff, for policy, practice and precedent. The room for mistakes is larger; the margin of success slimmer. It is said that political ideology most resembles a horseshoe; I’ve always found this interpretation compelling, and it may not take much to jump the gap, perhaps even before you realise you’ve done so.

And these changes in work happen at a time when there are changes in a personal life. Relationships, family, children, health, balance, perspective; a slowing down, a different pace, an accrual of experience; perhaps a sense of where the limit of your ability might lie; understanding what got you here won’t get you there.

What does this mean for how I feel about the future?

All of the above are phenomena that need time and space to consider. Taking this time, decompressing experience, so that it stretches out, feels important. In doing so there are more opportunities for reflection, to think about what something might mean and to think of implications in many directions. To think of why? as well as what? and how?

There are plenty of future times. To make the most of the fact things have happened or been tried before, of history, of documented experience, is a benefit. It’s a chance to learn, change what needs to be changed, keep what needs to be kept and work with the people who need to be worked with.

In taking time to truly know where I am now – of undertaking a personal appraisal – there is more chance to absorb experience and to fill in the gaps that ignorance and arrogance left behind, and of equipping myself for a more balanced future.


[1] – “Age and Scientific Genius” (pdf), National Bureau of Economic Research. A fascinating paper by Dean Simonton summarising what is known about age and outstanding achievement, including methodological questions, is available here (pdf).

[2] – For example, try easily finding the average age of all local authority chief executives.

“No news is good”: the practicalities

A couple of weeks ago I posted “No news is good”, which captured my plan to opt out of news, social and other media in order to:

pursue the things that interest me and my mind – giving myself chance and space to be curious, to think, to create and to be.

It was great to have various exchanges with people about the move, and I really would recommend taking the time to read Rolf Dobelli’s original essay (pdf).

A couple of people were interested in the practicalities of what I was going to do instead. This post briefly summarises the things I’ve put in place or am trying to help make my opt out a reality, broadly by media type. It’s not at all a riveting read, but shared in the hope it may be useful to others thinking about this topic.

Spare Slots grid

My "Spare Slots" grid - things to do if in a spare ... on Twitpic

By far the most important element of my approach is the Spare Slots grid above. This simple grid enables me to make proactive choices about what I might want to do depending on what sort of time slot is available. The things that are in the grid are aligned with things I’m interested in or trying to prioritise – arranged by the 3 headings of Create, Consume and Cardio – including things like writing more or opportunities to read/study.

The time slots are truly ‘spare’ time, i.e. when family time or work responsibilities are done (or as done as they ever can be!).

What the Spare Slots grid does is provide a menu of things that are important to me, and that are an alternative to the default of opening up my laptop/phone, which often leads to “sink” activities.


  • The first and main thing I’m doing with Twitter is to use it according to my Spare Slots grid. This means I spend no more than 15 minutes at a time on it, and so help manage the overall time I spend on it
  • I tend to focus much more on interaction rather than tweets. So the first and second columns in Tweetdeck are @ replies and Direct Messages, rather than my timeline
  • I’m being clearer with myself on who I am following/unfollowing and why. Hard as it is, I’m also being a little less English and unfollowing people rather than hesitating over it all the time
  • Lists are very useful – it enables me to separate specific work people / things and other interests
  • I use favourites a lot
  • Another useful trick is to schedule tweets. This means that I can only be on Twitter for 15 minutes but still post stuff over a period of a few hours / days without necessarily having to be on Twitter myself
  • I use filters, especially with some website links. Thus, I now very, very rarely see Daily Mail or Guardian links (for example) in Twitter
  • The main tool I use to do all of the above is Tweetdeck. This works best on my laptop, and haven’t yet found the best app to use on my phone that allows me to do as much as I want.


  • I didn’t use Facebook much anyway, which is fortunate because it’s in no way as customisable as Twitter is. The key here appears to be (if you’ll excuse my phrase) “selective vision”. Thus, if I see a picture with text on it, I just don’t read it.


  • YouTube is more customisable than I’d realised, especially using a Chrome Extension that takes a lot of the noise away (some ads, suggested videos etc. – search for “YouTube” in the Chrome Extension Store)
  • The main thing I do here is use subscriptions to channels
  • Similarly, I use Watch Later a lot, and this is the landing page I go to when first visiting YouTube.

Feedly (RSS Reader)

  • I still don’t get why Google discontinued Reader because I find RSS the most effective way of managing sources of information
  • Feedly is my RSS Reader of choice LINK, which allows me to aggregate all sources of information I’ve chosen. This means I then don’t have to visit those sites and so reduces the possibility of wider distraction
  • My RSS feeds are categorised and arranged by certain topics
  • I’ve particularly added blogs / sources of info that explore issues in depth, are high quality or are from sources I trust/respect
  • Even here, I filter the aggregated information quite quickly by using star item/read later systems.


  • I’ve basically switched it off! I’ve done this in the following ways:
  • I use a website/URL blocker as a Chrome Extension, which means that, even I have clicked a link, I still can’t see actually see it
  • I don’t buy newspapers or periodicals
  • I very rarely watch television. If there is something I’d like to see I use YouTube or, for flims/series etc. I tend to use Netflix (other streaming services are available)
  • I’m still considering the possibility of a subscription to a quality print periodical. The ones I’m thinking about at the moment are re-subscribing to Prospect or the London Review of Books, but I haven’t done this yet. Good as they may be, I won’t be getting a subscription to something like The Week, New Statesman or The Economist etc.

Personal email

  • The number of emails I deleted without reading was amazing. If I found myself deleting an email without reading it I would instead unsubscribe from the mailing list if at all possible. This has left me with around six newsletters from organisations I like (for example, Policy Network and Nesta).


  • I’ve removed some apps from my phone
  • I’ve turned off all notifications
  • I use airplane mode quite a lot (partly a battery problem, and much to the annoyance of my wife. Ever the diplomat, it’s only a matter of time before I get a mobile battery pack and not use airplane mode.).

So, those are most of the practicalities. After a bit of time seeing how it goes, I’ll do an update on what difference this has made, as well as reflections on the bit that I think will be the hardest: balancing all of the above with the responsibilities of work.

Should the DWP be disbanded? (Updated)

The institutions central to the operations of the political economy should not be seen as entities that are created at one point in time and can then be assumed to operative effectively afterwards… the operative force of many institutions cannot be taken for granted

– from Peter Hall and David Soskice, An Introduction to Varieties of Capitalism

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) was created in 2001. We should ask whether now is the time to disband it.

I ask this as a question of long-term policy and the administration of a significant part of Britain’s political economy (or “state”), rather than a short-term campaigning question designed to score political points. However, it would have the political advantage for whoever achieves power in 2015 of drawing some sort of line under what have proven to be poorly motivated and poorly executed welfare reforms since 2010.

To explore my question, below I outline why department organisation is important for the political economy, some history of the DWP, what the current DWP looks like, and then some top-level thoughts on what might be done with the current responsibilities of the DWP.

My motivation in the post that follows is rooted in an interest primarily in equality of opportunity for disabled people and what a future disability rights agenda might look like (spurred on by Neil Crowther’s thoughts), though it inevitably covers a wide range of areas relevant to DWP’s current remit.

At this stage I’m just musing on the initial question, in the hope others who (a) know more, and (b) think better, will think about, comment on and develop the question and answer.

Why are government departments and their reorganisation important?

First, a very brief bit about why the set up of government departments is important. (I appreciate that most readers will find something better to do at this point and stop reading.)

How governments are set up is vitally important to how the political economy works. The way they are organised reflects the direction of the public sector as a whole, since they sit atop a vast array of government agencies. The people who sit atop the departments – Ministers – are also Secretaries of State, and so have seats at Cabinet and its associated subcommittees.

As the Institute for Government (IfG) highlights [1]:

Departments are the key bridge between the core executive of Prime Minister, Cabinet, Treasury and other core departments and committees on the one hand and the ‘front-line’, delivery-level public sector agencies on the other.

It tends to happen in the wake of elections, but departments often get reorganised – see these lovely timelines of government department reorganisations highlighted by Public Strategist.)

Changes to the “machinery of government” is in the hands of the Prime Minister, and the IfG notes three factors that influence Prime Ministerial decision making on departmental reorganisation:

  1. External change – new demands and priorities for the government to grapple with
  2. Administrative challenges – based on the performance of existing departments and administrative arrangements
  3. Political considerations.

Though the IfG notes that machinery of government changes are best when factors 1 and 2 are the main drivers, senior civil servants who have been there, done that and bought the t-shirt say

the vast majority of departmental reorganisations occur primarily as a response to political pressures at Cabinet level, including both the need to create jobs to satisfy a particularly valuable member of Cabinet as well as the need to contain the size of Cabinet – with policy and delivery requirements taking second priority.

Furthermore, “pressure from stakeholders or media criticisms rarely feature in officials’ lists of political influences”.

DWP’s history

Political factors were a major component of Tony Blair’s thinking when he created the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in 2001.

Up until 1988, the government department most like the DWP was the Department of Health & Social Security (DHSS). This was split into the Department of Health and the Department for Social Security (DSS) respectively, until the DSS itself changed to become the DWP in 2001, taking on responsibility for employment (including policy) from the old Department for Education & Employment.

The main reasons for the creation of the DWP was to bring together two considerable parts of the state: social security for non-working people of all ages; and employment services and benefits for people of working age. From its very start, the DWP was set up to bring closer the relationship between work and benefits.

But it may never have been the DWP that was the sponsoring department of this close relationship. A series of dedicated working parties resulted in a recommendation from senior civil servants that the responsible department should be the Department for Education & Employment, enabling the relationship between education and employment – as well as skills and so the future economy’s workforce – to continue.

In the end, however, political considerations outweighed the policy potential (the first DWP Secretary of State was Alistair Darling) and Blair decided instead to create the DWP (a re-worked DSS) to take on employment and working-age benefits responsibilities, along with two other elements: administering benefits for (1) older people and (2) disabled people.

Despite the political fudge, senior civil servants rated the creation of the DWP the most successful departmental change in the 30 years since 2009, primarily because of the administrative sense in linking benefits to job seeking and the wider link with pensions. “Success” in this context, though, should probably be qualified: the IfG estimates that the creation of the DWP cost £175m (though only 3% of the associated budget) and there have been nine Secretaries of State between 2002-2013.

Where does this leave us with DWP?

DWP as it is now is a complicated beast, as its annual report for 2012/13 shows (pdf). It is the biggest public service delivery department in the UK, serving over 22 million people and paying £166 billion in benefits and pensions.

Using tables on relevant expenditure for 2013/14 from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (pdf) [2] we see that the DWP administers the following [3]:

For people over retirement age:

Area of spend Total spend
State pension + additional state pension + pension credit £63.4bn + £18.8bn + £7.3bn = £89.5bn
Attendance Allowance / Disability Living Allowance £10.5bn
Housing Benefit £6.4bn
Winter Fuel + TV licenses £2.8bn
Other £1.9bn
Total £111.0bn

For people of working age:

Area of spend Total spend
Out of work benefits: ESA + JSA + Income Support + Incapacity Benefit £9.2bn + £5.7bn + £3.0bn + £0.9bn = £18.8bn
Disability (DLA/PIP + Severe Disablement Allowance + Carers’ Allowance) £9.1bn + £0.7bn + £2.0bn = £11.8bn
Housing Benefit £17.1bn
Child Benefit £10.4bn
Maternity pay £2.4bn
Other £2.0bn
Total £62.4bn

This gives us a total expenditure for DWP in 2013/14 of  £173.4bn.

Look what happens, though, if we re-arrange this spending. What we then have is the following, for all ages:

Area of spend Total spend (£ / % of spend)
Pensions £89.5bn (52%)
Housing Benefit £6.4bn + £17.1bn = £23.5bn (14%)
Disability benefits £10.5bn + £11.8bn = £22.3bn (13%)
Out of work benefits £18.8bn (11%)
Child & Maternity benefits £10.4bn + £2.4bn = £12.8bn (7%)
Other £1.9bn + £2.0bn = £3.9bn (2%)
Winter Fuel Payment + TV licenses £2.8bn (2%)

These numbers suggest to me that the question of whether to disband the DWP is worth asking.

More than this, though, there are major reasons that suggest to me the question of whether to disband the DWP is also worth answering.

By the time 2015 arrives, and some 14 years after it was created, we have to consider the possibility that the DWP is no longer able to support government in meeting its long-term policy and administrative goals.

I suggest this for three reasons.

The first and most important reason is that DWP does not seem to be able to respond to the new demands and priorities placed on it by external change. This includes in key areas of its remit such as employment, housing or disability, and especially where these issues intersect. Policy in these areas has been stagnant or unimaginative for some while now.

The second reason is the administrative challenges the DWP isn’t rising to. The administrative failures of the £3bn-£5bn Work Programme (quite aside from the policy failures) are well documented, as are those associated with the £540m-worth of contracts with Atos and Capita for the new Personal Independent Payment. Then there’s Universal Credit, on which the Public Accounts Committee believes a substantial part of the spend on IT so far – some £303m – will have to be written off.

The third reason is that, politically, the DWP – with its nine Secretaries of State in 11 years, the significant and broadening chasm between political rhetoric and policy reality, and its administrative problems – is an issue.

If we look back to the reasons why Prime Ministers embark on machinery of government changes – external changes, administrative issues and political necessity – we find we have a clean sweep for the DWP.

What might we do?

So, what if we considered disbanding the DWP and instead gave its responsibilities to other (existing or new) departments?

The theoretical game of departmental musical chairs has already started. The Economist has mooted some sort of Department for Economic Reform, which might take responsibility for employment policy and job centres from DWP, bring in post-16 education and training from the Department for Education and cities and local growth from the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Similarly, Neil Crowther has suggested something similar when it comes to a future disability agenda, taking away disability employment support from DWP and giving it to a skills-based agenda, led by someone like BIS or, perhaps (my thought) the Department for Economic Reform above.

Whilst the music is still playing, then, here is my very initial, very rough suggestion for where DWP’s responsibilities may be allocated, based on its current spending responsibilities:

Area of spend Current spend Where responsibility could be allocated
Pensions £89.5bn A separate agency for pensions
Housing Benefit £23.5bn A new department, derived from DCLG, that holds responsibility for infrastructure, including housing
Disability benefits £22.3bn Perhaps a “Department for Inclusion”, which builds extensively on parts of the Department of Health’s current remit
Out of work benefits £18.8bn The mooted Department for Economic Reform
Child & Maternity benefits £12.8bn Moved to the Department for Education
Winter Fuel Payment + TV licenses £2.8bn Winter Fuel moved to Department for Energy & Climate Change; TV Licenses moved to DCMS or even the BBC

As I stressed at the start, these are just top-level thoughts for what might be done and are, to a large extent, fantastical. There are clearly various problems and issues of different orders with what I’ve suggested [4].

But the main point to take away from this post are the ideas that

  • DWP isn’t a government institution we should assume will always exist
  • The main reasons why a department ceases to exist have been fulfilled in the case of DWP, and so
  • We should open up the discussion on what to do next with the policy and administrative responsibilities currently in DWP. My suggestions are an offering to start precisely this.


[1] – I am indebted to the excellent Making & Breaking Whitehall Departments by the brilliant Institute for Government (pdf) for analysis of machinery of government changes and the history of the DWP

[2] – Thanks to Flip Chart Rick for the link. His excellent post on £12bn further welfare cuts in part prompted my thinking on this topic

[3] – These figures don’t include tax credits, since I believe they are administered by HMRC. Similarly, they don’t include Council Tax Benefit, which has been replaced by council-run support schemes, the central government subsidy for these is forecast at £4.3bn per year to 2016-17.

[4] – Not that this has ever stopped others from making silly suggestions. I’m looking at you, think tanks.

Update: Neil Crowther kindly highlighted this piece by Simon Duffy where he moots the possibility of closing down DWP as a practical solution to reforming Employment & Support Allowance.

Survey update what next for mental health and co-production

Mind and nef have recently published a literature review on how coproduction is being applied in mental health settings, which you can find here.

The natural question that follows from this publication is: “What next?” To help answer that question, a survey was put together by some folks* with a real interest in this and a little bit of time.

This post briefly gives an updated on the types of responses received so far.

In total, there have been 83 responses so far, which is pretty good going. Just over a third of responses are from people who identify as having a mental health problem. The next biggest response comes from mental health providers in the voluntary and community sector (15%) and then User-Led Organisations (12%).

The biggest barriers to coproduction in mental health are felt so far to be the following:

  • Lack of engagement from people who deliver services (24%)
  • Lack of understanding of the concept of coproduction (23%)
  • Lack of commissioner support (12%)
  • Other answers regularly mention lack of resources, including both time and money and insufficient recognition of people’s contributions/resources.

To take forward coproduction in mental health, the following so far were felt to be the most useful:

  • A network of people specifically interested in mental health and coproduction (25%)
  • Training to help understand what coproduction is, the difference it makes and how to do it (13%)
  • A campaign to promote coproduction in mental health (13%).

Other than a notable number of respondents who think all policy areas should be prioritised, people who have completed the questionnaire so far think that health (46%) is the policy area that should be prioritised for mental health and coproduction, followed by social care (16%). Very few have mentioned, for example, employment (4%), welfare (0%) or criminal justice (3%).

This is all really useful information so far, and want to make sure there are as many views shared as possible. As such, the survey will be open until the end of January. If you, an organisation or someone / an organisation you know might be interested in completing the survey, please do pass it on.

Mental health and coproduction survey:

*Paola Pierri (Mind), Julia Slay and Lucie Stephens (nef), Shahana Ramsden (National Coproduction Advisory Group), Rich Watts (NDTi)


“If a body meet a body…”

“You know that song ‘If a body catch a body comin’ through the rye’? I’d like–”

“It’s ‘If a body meet a body coming through the rye’!” old Phoebe said. “It’s a poem. By Robert Burns.”

“I know it’s a poem by Robert Burns.”

She was right, though. It is “If a body meet a body coming through the rye.” I didn’t know it then, though.

“I thought it was ‘If a body catch a body,'” I said. “Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all.”

I’ve been put in mind of this this morning. Complicated emotions of feeling complicit in something that just should not be and not knowing what’s best to do: to leave it or to fight.

Who knows?

Out of Office

The consistently thoughtful Stefan Czerniawski (also known as @pubstrat) posted an excellent set of reflections on Remote: Office not required yesterday, itself a book which “shows both employers and employees how they can work together, remotely, from any desk, in any space, in any place, anytime, anywhere.”

I thoroughly recommend you read the whole of Stefan’s post and the excellent discussion in the comments that follow [not often you say that – ed]. Of many excellent parts, how about:

Although few like to admit it explicitly, many managers do not have that trust or, more generously, have not needed to develop a management style which is based on trust.

Stefan also points to an excellent video from the RSA on Re-Imagining Work, which animates a talk from Dave Coplin (we won’t hold the fact he’s from Microsoft against him). It’s well worth 9 minutes of your time.

I’m not quite sure where I am on this. Drawing on my own experiences I’ve worked in places that are the extremes of both office-based working and remote working. Neither really worked for me. Then again, when I worked in a place that was generally trusting and so had a flexible approach to where you based yourself on any given day or week, this didn’t really work for me either. In this case there were different reasons at play: it was less the location of people’s working but more other organisational cultures (grappling with silos, funny enough) which made things difficult.

Inevitably, I don’t think there’s a general conclusion we can draw on where people should work. I know the balance is currently too far in the direction of traditional work models, but equally think the correction shouldn’t be taken too far in the other direction. Let’s work first on trust and approaches to management that are appropriate and relevant to the function of an organisation, and then figure out the form that follows.

Addendum: The opening of Dave Coplin’s talk really hit home with me about people who get the collaborative, networked approach we are moving to now, and how this differs from traditional views of management and work. My (admittedly silly) working theory is both that (a) those people who are more naturally collaborative will more often attribute where their tweets, references or thinking cites others, and (b) they will cite in less traditional ways, using @usernames and links rather than referencing according to the Harvard system or using footnotes.

(George Julian had some interesting reflections on an associated topic – the Modified Tweet – which you can read here and here.)