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Clare McNeil - Five lessons from Dutch ‘radical decentralisation’ for the UK

Clare McNeil - Five lessons from Dutch ‘radical decentralisation’ for the UK

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Published by onenationregister
The big social question which will confront all the main parties in 2015 is how they can create a better society and improve public services with less money. Labour needs a compelling and distinctive answer to this. An unlikely source of inspiration could come from radical Dutch social reforms. We offer five lessons from these reforms for the UK.
The big social question which will confront all the main parties in 2015 is how they can create a better society and improve public services with less money. Labour needs a compelling and distinctive answer to this. An unlikely source of inspiration could come from radical Dutch social reforms. We offer five lessons from these reforms for the UK.

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Published by: onenationregister on Dec 04, 2013
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05/15/2014

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Five lessons from Dutch
‘radical decentralisation’
 for the UK
By Clare McNeil
Just under a year and a half away from an election, the urgency of the cost of living crisis means the economy has taken centre-stage, but Labour nevertheless needs a broad canvas on which to set out its vision for Britain at the next election. The big social question which will confront all the main parties in 2015 is how they can create a better society and improve public services with less money. Labour needs a compelling and distinctive answer to this, to convince a
sceptical public following the failure of the Big Society, the Coalition’s
overreaching reforms to health and welfare and a lack of trust in Labour not to simply throw money at the problem. An unlikely source of inspiration could come from radical Dutch social reforms.  In September the Dutch King announced the birth of the
‘participatory society’
 in the Netherlands, declaring the end of the welfare state. While a key political motivation is undoubtedly to heavily reduce central government spending, at the local level this is leading to policy innovation on a grand scale. In fact, the reforms underway since 2007 have sought to achieve aims similar to those Jon Cruddas recently set out in a speech 
on Labour’s emerging social
politics: devolving more power locally; facilitating mutual support and prevention and encouraging more collaboration across different services. The Dutch experience provides five key lessons for Labour:
1.
 
Dutch
‘radical decentralisation’ is working
, but not for everyone
…..
 
The Dutch are in the process of transferring all responsibility for social support for younger and older people, as well as mental health, substance misuse and homelessness funding from central to local government by 2015. As a result, many local areas are fundamentally changing the way they work, integrating
 
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services around people’s needs ra
ther than specialist silos. The hi-tech city of Eindhoven is among the most ambitious, its
 
 scheme marshalling over 300 workers from existing agencies to form new area-based networks, connecting people with each other, local services and civil society, street by street and is already boosting civic participation. But while large and wealthy cities like Eindhoven are thriving, smaller municipalities are struggling to cope with the continuing stream of new responsibilities and are merging at a rapid rate (there were 811 in 1980 and are now just 408). And while there is an obligation on local government to provide vulnerable citizens with a minimum level of care, in reality this depends on local decisions and funding, providing far weaker protection than the previous national legal entitlements.
The lesson for the UK is that a bold devolution of power and responsibility
is the only way to restore people’s
connection with local services and each other, but that those who could benefit most would lose out without certain statutory requirements
 
2.
 
Too much freedom to innovate can be as restrictive as too little
….
 
The Dutch reforms have also led to more power and responsibility for the providers of services, who in some areas are given the freedom to set their own outcomes
under a ‘less
-rules-more-
care’
. But in October, several care providers including Careyn pulled out of this arrangement because the flexibility and margins around the rules they were given were leading to higher costs and confusion.
This suggests that while top-down targets are not the answer for more responsive services, neither is a lack of structure or accountability. More experimentation will be an important feature of a more decentralised system.
 
3.
 
There’s no lack
 of help available in
communities, there’s a lack
 of people prepared to ask for it
…..
 
Because of the strong emphasis on mutual support in Dutch social reforms, close attention has been paid to how this actually comes about. Lilian Linders,  a Dutch academic, recently published an influential study finding that although plenty of people are prepared to help a neighbour, they will not generally do
so until they are asked. She labels this the ‘
support 
 
scruple’. Peopl
e are even less likely to ask for support however because they have learnt that they
 
 3
should take responsibility for their own problems (
the ‘
request 
 
scruple’
). Linders argues policy should focus on making it easier for people both to offer and ask for help
(for example ‘asset
-
based’ approaches which
 build informal links)
and that this would do more to lead to growth of informal care than tackling any perceived shortage of supply (for example efforts to increase volunteering). 4.
 
Policy too often relies
on outdated notions of ‘neighbourliness’….
 
Another reason policy often fails to facilitate mutual aid is because it assumes
‘community cohesion’ leads to people helping each other more
. However research carried out in the Drents Dorp area of Eindhoven found that people who feel strongly about their neighbourhood are no more likely to support someone nearby than anyone else
1
. What support is given tends to be as a result of personal relationships between two neighbours borne out of physical proximity, rather than any collective sense of community solidarity. Many people actually wanted to keep some distance from their neighbours.
This suggests if facilitating mutual aid is to be an aim of policy, it needs to be about connecting people who live close to each other or who have a reciprocal need, rather
efforts to increase ‘community cohesion’.
 5.
 
An agenda for
people-led politics
 needs to be carefully crafted in times of austerity
….
 
Building a political agenda around active citizenship and personal responsibility can help mobilise deep reserves of energy and enthusiasm. But in times of economic hardship, with people often struggling to fulfil work and home responsibilities, many people will resent being told they should be doing more. In the Netherlands, there was initially strong public support for radical social reforms to the state, due in part to expectations that this would keep rising healthcare premiums down. However, as one worker in an Eindhoven self-help
group explained, “they have shifted some of the welfare state onto individuals.
While it is good we are doing more for ourselves and each other, the message
we get is ‘you are on your own’”, she says.
‘‘If we are s
cared to depend on each other, how will we achieve our goal of the caring society?
 
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 An English summary of this research is available at: http://www.aalforum.eu/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/162-LilianLinders.pdf  

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