Advice and advocacy services go out of the window as commissioning takes hold

A report from the Baring Foundation, a grant giving body which helps voluntary organisations, now known by the authorities as “the third sector”, has criticised the commissioning system and commissioners.
I haven’t found anyone in the voluntary sector who likes being categorised as “third sector”. It smacks of patronage and fits in well with a view of voluntary organisations as being dependent on hand-outs and aid much as an internal “third world”. The irony is that the health service has long since recognised the need to work closely with community-based groups in order to reach the many in need of help and support. Mental health is a good example of an area of concern where much could be done in the community to give help and support to those known to be at risk. The Government gave a priority to supporting groups through its Delivering Race Equality (DRE) agenda. Commissioners were advised of the need to work closely with the community-based organisations. This well-paid group of people who have come into existence with the commissioning system make it their task to closely guard the scarce resources they administer. Yes quite so, but the effect has been to make it extremely difficult for many organisations with a long track record of care and in-depth knowledge of community needs to either disappear, or as the Baring report says, compromise their independence, vital for effective advice and advocacy services. Another trend has been for those in receipt of direct payments for the social care and health needs has been for them to have to pay for the advice services that were once free to them.

Two years ago I managed a project designed to involve bme voluntary sector organisations in contracts for Independent Mental Capacity Advocates (IMCA) and Independent Mental Health Advocates (IMHA). This was based at the Sikh Community and Youth Service (SCYS) in Soho Road, Handsworth. Eight people went on training sessions to help individuals who lacked mental capacity to make decisions over a short or longer term. They represented a range of ethnic backgrounds and cultural experiences including an Iranian refugee. The Independent Mental Health Advocacy services for those facing sectioning were yet to start. However individuals from some of the 40 organisations across the West Midlands went on to train as IMHA. A “tool kit” exists on a website to help those interested.

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