FutureGov recently ran a user-focused discovery into welfare services in Sheffield.

We’ve been looking at what welfare means by researching the ins and outs of services and what they mean to the people who use them.

A FutureGov view of welfare

FutureGov has worked with many welfare services, supporting organisations. Our team has heaps of experience in dealing with welfare reform. Often, the public sector see services from their own perspective, as the provider, without seeing the wider impact of their work. As a result, services reflect the segmented needs of the public sector, not the holistic needs of the user.

This means that the experience of people who need support can get overlooked due to narrow, segmented services. When this happens, we end up with a skewed narrative of services like welfare, steeped in politics and organisation silos. Excluding people’s lived experience.

Departmental silos make policies that treat needs one at a time

People who need help face an immediate barrier. The public sector has a view of siloed departments, policies and services that don’t translate into anything meaningful for the people using the services. This segmentation prevents users from knowing which department or organisation to speak to about any given service or how to begin solving their problems.

When the public sector builds siloed services, they’re forcing people to separate their needs. The expectation is that a person can pull apart their needs into separate entities like, “I need a job” or “I need somewhere to live”. In reality, these two needs are interdependent. We could address the two needs in isolation, but we should address their relationship.

Why should we address their relationship? Well…

People have many, interlinked needs

Life is complex. Life doesn’t fit into neat little boxes, and we shouldn’t expect it to. As the public sector segments services and support, it ignores the interdependency between a person’s needs and the complexity of life and individual situations.

Rather than ticking a box and transitioning, or moving users onto another service, we need to consider:

  • what else happened during their unemployment
  • how has their situation changed
  • what does that mean for any other services they might be accessing

By asking these types of questions, organisations can pass on better information and build a better trust network with people. Instead, we often have a fragmented network that only makes sense through the lens of the public service, leaving gaps in how people experience welfare support.

Transitions are danger-points

Isolated services continue to support people, but people then find it difficult to move on. This happens when people receive support and move on to a new service, or when their life changes (like having a baby or starting a new school).

Services tend to work in a way that hands people off and doesn’t hand people over. As the public sector meets one need, people face a vacuum of support. Services expect people to cope and understand what comes next on their own.

Using the example:

Employment services support “I need a job” by helping that person back into employment. But, the same person still needs somewhere to live. Needing a place to live is a basic human need, often found hand in hand with searching for work. Unfortunately, this persons unemployment caused the debt, so they cannot afford a housing deposit and they’re not a high priority for social housing. They might have to continue Couchsurfing whilst starting a new job. The stress and pressure means they underperform at work and get fired.

This person is now back to square one. Better transitions between services could prevent pushing people through a revolving door.

A wonky view of welfare

For want of a better description, there’s often a wonky view of welfare, both in UK regions and nationally, because it’s seen through the eyes of service providers and not the people who need help. The public sector puts structure in place and assumes it works for people. It doesn’t.

We’re not saying everything needs to start from scratch and to abandon all structure. We are saying that people shouldn’t feel segmented or that they’re a part of a fragmented system.

A non-wonky view of welfare means that people don’t see the silos or gaps in support. They wouldn’t fall into one category. Instead, we will experience interconnected services that sees their whole life situation.

Working together with Sheffield

Sheffield City Council recognised that welfare services are fragmented and asked FutureGov to work with them to better understand existing user journeys and the needs for welfare in the City. We built on our experiences working with government and welfare services elsewhere to deliver a snapshot of what welfare looks like across Sheffield.

This is just the start and there are now many opportunities to improve services and support for people living in Sheffield, based on having a clearer understanding of the services and organisations people are interacting with, the type of support they need, and when.

Want to talk more about welfare? You can tweet @ThatGirlVim, or you can see me talk at the International Government Conference.

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