Policies on rights and responsibilities

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Recent agendas which involve transferring decision-making power from national to local government, right down to individual citizens (i.e. localism, devolution) and welfare provision (choice, personalisation), are gathering more policy detail and, in some cases, moving into the delivery phase. This has meant that there has been an increase in policies and proposals from all the main political parties that seek to empower individuals and focus on greater personal responsibility (eg The Bill of Rights and NHS Patients Charter). Cameron’s ‘social responsibility’ agenda is part of a traditional concern about the ability of the state to drive social progress, and a strong belief in individual autonomy and responsibility. For that reason, the Conservatives currently support pushing the empowerment agenda further. The prominence of intractable problems (for example climate change and obesity), and a growing sense that these cannot be solved by the old approach to welfare, but only by the State and individuals taking joint responsibility, has also contributed to this.

What are the implications?

  • More personalised rights and responsibility can empower individuals, by allowing them to take more control of their own lives and services.
  • An increased focus on a society of self-reliance and individual responsibility taken to the extreme may damage collective action.
  • A stricter, more conditional approach to state entitlements (e.g. current Labour policies on welfare and the Conservative proposals on welfare) may lead to an increase in inequality as those unable to make their voice heard or take responsibility for themselves are marginalised.
  • Sanctions and more punitive methods of welfare policy risk criminalising and further marginalising disadvantaged individuals and groups.
  • The impact of the recession on public spending may mean there is more emphasis on pushing this agenda from the main political parties.
  • The empowerment agenda is likely to be linked with a furthering of the localism agenda.
  • Policy approaches that focuses on individual responsibility may further exacerbate already hardening attitudes towards domestic poverty amongst the public.

Moving forward

The empowerment agenda and the power this gives individuals and the VCS may present many opportunities that the sector can take advantage of.

  • For example, what benefits might asset transfer bring to your community?
  • Are there areas of skills development that your organisation will need to undertake in order to benefit from these opportunities and prepare for the open market? 

The choice and personalisation of services and the rights and responsibilities this expects, may dramatically change the way people access and use services with not all service users having the knowledge or skills to make the choices envisaged by government.

  • How can your organisation help individuals to build their confidence and skills so they can make the right choices, either directly or indirectly? 

Want to know more?

The politics of public behaviour

Published by: Demos, a left of centre think tank

Date: 2008

Format: PDF

What is it? A 70 page pamphlet exploring the background to the growing government focus on tackling the consequences of personal behaviour and decisions of individuals.

How useful is this? The pamphlet gives a good background to the current policy agenda on rights and responsibility based public policy, exploring some of the current economic, political and social factors responsible for its increase. It also contains the perspectives of three MPs from different political traditions, each offering contrasting views on the public implications of private decisions and giving some background to their thinking behind the direction and aims of their parties’ policies. Each essay looks at the forces driving this change, the challenges that it creates for policy and the big political questions it poses for the future. The pamphlet also includes a framework for how to negotiate the new politics of public behaviour.

Other comments:

The notes and references list at the end of the report provide a good background reading list, charting the rise of responsibility and conditionality in public policy.

NCVO briefing on the DCLG White Paper -  'Communities in control: Real people, real power'

Published by: HM Government, 2008

Date: 2008

Format: PDF

What is it? A NCVO policy briefing about the Communities and Local Government white paper discussing the key points for the VCS.

How useful is this? The White Paper is the latest step in a raft of legislation and policy on the empowerment agenda and is being heralded as a big step in empowering citizens and really devolving power. The briefing gives a summary of the seven opportunities for community engagement which it aims to address from the perspective of the individual citizen set out in the Paper: being active in your community; access to information; having an influence; challenge; redress; standing for office; ownership and control. The briefing discusses how each area will impact on the VCS and is useful to see where current government thinking is on this agenda and how far they plan to take it. Dhara’s post on this links to some blogs with a variety of opinions on how successful the Paper will be.

Other comments:

The full White Paper is available to download here.

Conditional sense

Published by: Progress - the independent organisation for Labour party members and trade unionists.

Date: 2007

Format: Web

What is it? An article by the new chair of Demos – Ed Straw explaining some the arguments for the use of conditionality in public policy.

How useful is this? This article is definitely behind the idea of using conditionality as a model of social change. However, it offers an interesting background to the advent of conditionality in public policy and why all the main parties see it as a key public policy tool. The article explains some of the reasons why the implementation of conditionality is a positive measure for society and counters some of the main arguments against it. Straw also provides some reasons for why public policy does not have to be at odds with a liberal conscience.

Other comments:

Last updated at 16:14 Wed 23/Feb/11.

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Megan 's picture


Third Sector Foresight

I recently came across the notion of ‘soft paternalism’, which seems relevant here. It refers to an overt process through which individuals are
encouraged to buy in to particular kinds of behaviour in order to improve their own welfare, and is described by Wikipedia as a “political philosophy that believes the state can help you make the choices you would make for yourself—if only you had the strength of will and the sharpness of mind. But unlike ‘hard’ paternalists, who ban some things and mandate others, the softer kind aims only to skew your decisions, without infringing greatly on your freedom of choice.”

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How will this affect your organisation? Have you considered it during your strategic planning? Can you share any interesting relevant links?

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